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Language as a Complex Adaptive System

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3400-5
286 pages
December 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
Language as a Complex Adaptive System (144433400X) cover image


  • Explores a new approach to studying language as a complex adaptive system, illustrating its commonalities across many areas of language research
  • Brings together a team of leading researchers in linguistics, psychology, and complex systems to discuss the groundbreaking significance of this perspective for their work
  • Illustrates its application across a variety of subfields, including languages usage, language evolution, language structure, and first and second language acquisition

"What a breath of fresh air! As interesting a collection of papers as you are likely to find on the evolution, learning, and use of language from the point of view of both cognitive underpinnings and communicative functions."  Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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Table of Contents

Editorial and Dedications (Nick C. Ellis & Diane Larsen-Freeman).

Language is a complex adaptive system: Position paper. 
‘The Five Graces Group' (Clay Beckner, Richard Blythe, Joan Bybee, Morten H. Christiansen, William Croft, Nick C. Ellis, John Holland, Jinyun Ke, Diane Larsen-Freeman, & Tom Schoenemann)

A usage-based account of constituency and reanalysis (Clay Beckner & Joan Bybee).

The speech community in evolutionary language dynamics (Richard A. Blythe & William A. Croft).

Linking rule acquisition in novel phrasal constructions (Jeremy K. Boyd, Erin A. Gottschalk, & Adele E. Goldberg).

Constructing a second language: Analyses and computational simulations of the emergence of linguistic constructions from usage (Nick C. Ellis & Diane Larsen-Freeman).

A usage-based approach to recursion in sentence processing (Morten H. Christiansen, & Maryellen C. MacDonald).

Evolution of brain and language (P. Thomas Schoenemann).

Complex adaptive systems and the origins of adaptive structure: what experiments can tell us (Hannah Cornish, Monica Tamariz,  & Simon Kirby).

Meaning in the making: meaning potential emerging from acts of meaning (Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen).

Individual differences: Interplay of learner characteristics and learning environment (Zoltán Dörnyei).

If language is a complex adaptive system, what is language assessment? (Robert J. Mislevy & Chengbin Yin).

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Author Information

Nick Ellis is Research Scientist in the English Language Institute, Professor of Psychology, and Associated Faculty in the Centre for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan. His research interests include language acquisition, cognition, corpus linguistics, cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, and emergentism. He is the author of more than 130 scientific papers and chapters and has edited books on Implicit and Explicit Learning of Languages (1994), Handbook of Spelling: Theory, Process and Intervention (John Wiley, 1994, with Gordon Brown), and Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition (2008, with Peter Robinson). He served as editor of Language Learning from 1998–2002 and is currently the general Editor.

Diane Larsen-Freeman is Professor of Education, Professor of Linguistics, and Research Scientist at the English Language Institute of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her books include: Discourse Analysis in Second Language Research (1980), The Grammar Book (co-authored with Marianne Celce-Murcia, 1983; 1999), Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (1986; 2000), An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research (co-authored with Michael Long, 1991), Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring (2003), and Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics (co-authored with Lynne Cameron,  2008). From 1980- 1985, Dr. Larsen-Freeman was Editor of the journal Language Learning.

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"Readers of this book are certain to gain a great sense of increased understanding, not only of the workings of language but also of current research innovations within the Emergentist paradigm. All ten of the papers are clearly written so that those with little previous exposure to this type of work will be easily engaged and be able to follow the evidence and arguments presented." (The Linguist List, 7 December 2010)
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