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My new book, An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists, published by Cambridge University Press, is out now!
There’s no doubt that genetics (genomics, bioinformatics, and other related disciplines) have a major impact on many aspects of science and popular culture. And that, more and more, we need them to even ask relevant questions about language and speech: I can’t even imagine thinking about say language origins and evolution, the patterning of linguistic diversity or first language acquisition, to mention just a few, without the methods, concepts and results coming from genetics. But there’s no easy way to learn these as a student or researcher interested in language; most curricula do not include them and, if you’re lucky, you might hear brief mentions here and there.
When I took up this project many years ago, I missed a concise resource that would allow the language scientists (this is a very diverse audience that I take to include, among others, theoretical linguists, typologists, historical linguists, phoneticians, but also speech therapists and computational linguists) to acquire not only the foundations of genetics relevant to them, but also some of the latest findings in the field. But I also wanted it to explain the ideas and methods, not just contain a collection of results. And I wanted it to be interesting for people that work on language (cancer genetics or obesity are fascinating topics but not terribly relevant to them). And it had to be short… (oh, did I already mention that?)
I hope the result will be useful to students but also to more senior academics and, why not, to the general public. I am covering here topics such as the nature – nurture and innateness debate, the heritability of language and speech, discuss fundamental molecular concepts and mechanisms, how genes are found using linkage and association studies, illustrate some fascinating examples of genes relevant to speech and language showing the complexity and beauty of how genes affect the phenotype, but I also cover population and evolutionary genetics and the co-evolution between biology and culture. Thus, quite a bit…
And, while making it accessible without requiring too much preexisting background in mathematics and biology, I did not hide the beauty and complexity of the statistical techniques and molecular processes involved. I would like to give its reader now only knowledge about findings but a deeper understanding of how the things work and how we can study them. As I say in the introduction, I’d like to allow the readers to not only follow the literature but to actively and meaningfully contribute to it. I strongly believe that no mater how powerful and cheap our genetic technologies will become, it is essential that in those huge teams there are scientists who really understand language as well.
The Table of Contents, the Introduction and some book extracts are available for free online here. There’s also a pretty comprehensive Glossary as well, and a huge References section containing pointers to introductory materials, foundational readings but also cutting-edge findings and methods; there’s also lots of links to online resources, tools and software (and even some R code in the appendices).
I hope you will enjoy it!
However, things move very fast and newer relevant findings will undoubtedly be published, new software made available and new methods discovered. I will try to post updates here, on the BITsaying blog, trying to keep you up-to-date with what is happening. But I’d like to invite you to also post updates, comments and suggestions here, hopefully creating a community with shared interests.
Finally, what about the cover? It’s a very cool Chinese brush painting by Alexandra Dima (who’s both an artist and a scientist) and there’s more to it than meets the eye. The title hints at something (“Πάντα ῥεῖ under Darwin’s tree“), but there’s more…