Genomic imprinting as a window into human language evolution

Thomas Hitchcock, Silvia Paracchini, Andy Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Humans spend large portions of their time and energy talking to one another, yet it remains unclear whether this activity is primarily selfish or altruistic. Here, it is shown how parent‐of‐origin specific gene expression—or “genomic imprinting”—may provide an answer to this question. First, it is shown why, regarding language, only altruistic or selfish scenarios are expected. Second, it is pointed out that an individual's maternal‐origin and paternal‐origin genes may have different evolutionary interests regarding investment into language, and that this intragenomic conflict may drive genomic imprinting which—as the direction of imprint depends upon whether investment into language is relatively selfish or altruistic—may be used to discriminate between these two possibilities. Third, predictions concerning the impact of various mutations and epimutations at imprinted loci on language pathologies are derived. In doing so, a framework is developed that highlights avenues for using intragenomic conflicts to investigate the evolutionary drivers of language.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1800212
Number of pages11
Issue number6
Early online date27 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Genomic imprinting
  • Inclusive fitness
  • Intragenomic conflict
  • Kin selection
  • Language evolution
  • Language impairement
  • Parent-of-origin effects


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