Reading Evolutionary Biology Group
Mark Pagel

Professor Mark Pagel, FRS

School of Biological Sciences,
Lyle Building,
University of Reading,

Telephone: + 44 (0)118 378 8900
Fax: + 44 (0)118 378 0180


Mark Pagel builds statistical models to examine the evolutionary processes imprinted in human behavior, from genomics to the emergence of complex systems -- to culture. His latest work examines the parallels between linguistic and biological evolution by applying methods of phylogenetics, or the study of evolutionary relatedness among groups, essentially viewing language as a culturally transmitted replicator with many of the same properties we find in genes. He's looking for patterns in the rates of evolution of language elements, and hoping to find the social factors that influence trends of language evolution.

At the University of Reading, Pagel heads the Evolution Laboratory in the biology department, where his work raises questions in the philosophy of biology, mind and language and explores such questions as, "Why would humans evolve a system of communication that prevents them from communicating with other members of the same species?" He has used statistical methods to reconstruct features of dinosaur genomes, and to infer ancestral features of genes and proteins.

European Research Council Mother Tongue Project News

  • Language: Why Us and Only Us? Trends in Ecology and Evolution (In press). [Article]
  • Special Report: Language. New Scientist (February 2016). [Issue]
  • Bantu expansion shows that habitat alters the route and pace of human dispersals. PNAS (October 2015). [Journal Article] [ article] [ZME Science article]
  • 12 Things About Language That Will Leave You Speechless. Buzzfeed (September 2015). [Article]
  • Why We Speak. The Atlantic (June 2015). [Article]
  • The Evolution of Human Languages. Provost's Lecture Series: Darwin Day, SB (February 2015). [Video]
  • Detecting Regular Sound Changes in Linguistics as Events of Concerted Evolution. Current Biology (January 2015). [Journal Article]
  • Digital Human: Language. BBC 4 Radio (October 2014). [Audio]
  • Frequency of Use and Basic Vocabulary. Multilingual Cognition and Language Use: Processing and Typological Perspectives (June 2014). [PDF]
  • A speaker's map of the mind. Mapping it Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies (June 2014). [Book]
  • Old School language. Rap by Zach Sherwin (May 2014). [Youtube Video]
  • Linguistics and the Evolution of Human Languages in the Princeton Guide to Evolution (December 2013).
  • Vibrant examples of ERC projects. (December 2013).[Website and PDF]
  • Defiance: A one-minute Opera by John Craton (May 2013). [Information, MP3, and Score]
  • Linguists identify 15,000-year-old 'ultraconserved words'. The Washington Post (May 2013). [Article] [Voiced Words]
  • Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia. PNAS (May 2013). [Journal Article]
  • Linguistic evidence supports date for Homeric epics. BioEssays (May 2013). [Journal Article]
  • Statistically speaking. Pan European Networks (March 2013). [Article]
  • How language transformed humanity. TED Global (July 2011). [Video Talk]

Other News

  • We asked an evolution expert what will happen to humanity after the apocalypse. (November 2015). [Article]
  • Mixed Messages: Are our genes and culture at cross purposes? New Scientist: CultureLab (May 2015). [Article]
  • They'll Do More Good Than Harm. What to think about machines that think (2015). [Article]
  • Creativity, like evolution, is merely a series of thefts. Wired (March 2015). [Article]
  • Love in the lab: Close collaborators. Nature (June 2014). [Article]
  • Human Evolution's Creative Drive. Financial Times (December 2013). [Video]
  • Falling Walls: Breaking the Wall of Collective Stupidity. (November 2013). [Video]
  • The World Economic Forum. Dalian, China, China's Cultural Legacy (September 2013). [Photo]
  • The World Economic Forum. Davos (January 2013). [Information] [Photo]
  • Infinite Stupidity. Edge Conversations: A talk with Mark Pagel (December 2011).[Video & Written Talk]