Evolucionismo e mudança linguística: relevância do modelo evolucionista e integração sociocognitiva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper has the double objective of explaining the relevance of an evolutionary model for the study of language change and of showing the advantages of a more systematic sociocognitive perspective related to linguistic change. We focus on an influential evolutionary approach to language change: the Utterance Selection Theory of language change developed by Croft (2000). Croft’s evolutionary approach takes its inspiration from neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, particularly the Generalized Theory of Selection developed by Hull (1988), a philosopher of science. The touchstone idea states that linguistic change is an instance of cultural evolution and is therefore submitted to the same general evolutionary mechanisms driving biological evolution. Language is a a system of use governed by convention, and language change results from breaking with convention and propagating this innovation through the linguistic community until it becomes a new convention. Accordingly to this generalized evolutionary model, altered replication is equated with language innovation, and propagation of individual changes is the linguistic counterpart of the differential perpetuation or selection of replicators. We will argue within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics (Geeraerts & Cuyckens 2007) for a more systematic integration of cognitive and social factors in the explanation of language change. Taking semantic change as illustration we will show that the mechanisms for language innovation are cognitive whereas the mechanisms for propagation are essentially social. Knowing how do cognitive factors interact with social factors along linguistic change remains a major challenge of the evolutionary approach to language change.
Original languagePortuguese
Pages (from-to)37-54
JournalRevista Portuguesa de Humanidades – Estudos Linguísticos
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Cognitive linguistics
  • Evolution
  • Evolutionary models
  • Generalized Darwinism
  • Language change
  • Replication
  • Selection
  • Semantic change
  • Social cognition

Cite this