Cultural niche construction: Evolution's cradle of language

John Odling-Smee*, Kevin N. Laland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


Standard evolutionary theory is highly successful, based as it is on solid mathematical foundations and a rich empirical tradition, constantly renewed by exchanges of hypotheses and data among diverse researchers. Yet, despite its successes, it does not provide a satisfactory basis for understanding human evolution. Primarily, this is because standard evolutionary theory's assumptions limit what it can explain. Significantly, it largely neglects the role of niche-construction in evolution. As a result, it has inadvertently erected conceptual barriers that make it difficult to integrate evolutionary biology with several neighboring disciplines, including developmental biology, ecosystem-level ecology, and the human sciences. This chapter describes how niche construction can usefully be regarded as a process which, combined with established evolutionary processes, improves understanding of human evolution. By integrating human niche construction with gene-culture co-evolutionary theory, an evolutionary framework to explore the evolution of language is developed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Prehistory of Language
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191720369
ISBN (Print)9780199545872
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010


  • Evolutionary process
  • Evolutionary theory
  • language capacity
  • Language development
  • Niche construction


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