Gareth Roberts

Associate Professor

PhD, University of Edinburgh

Office Location: 
3401 Walnut St., 317C, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Research Interests: 

Language evolution, language change, language variation, cultural evolution, experimental semiotics, social interaction

Specific Research Areas:

I mainly conduct experimental research on language change. This typically involves having groups of participants playing games in which they communicate using artificial languages or construct novel communication systems jointly.

Research Synopsis:

My background is in the evolution of language, but I am particularly interested in applying innovative experimental methods developed in that field to understanding change and variation in modern language. My most recently published work has concerned the role of social and information-theoretic factors in language change, the role of drift and selection in the cultural evolution of language, and the dynamics of synonymy. and I am currently conducting NSF-funded research on the organization of phonological spaces, as well as projects on the interpretation of redundancy in communication and the role of iconicity in communicative success. Much of my past research has focused on applying “laboratory language” approaches to three areas: the dynamics of linguistic variation, the emergence of combinatorial grammatical structure, and fundamental properties of communicative interaction. However, my work is by no means solely confined to these areas or approaches, and I have taken part in projects on sensitivity to incoherence in natural-language conversation, the cross-linguistic distribution of color terms, and on attitudes to grammatical variation in Welsh. I have also conducted research on the cultural evolution of non-linguistic behavior, and I am the founder and do-director of the Social and Cultural Evolution Working Group at Penn. As this suggests, I am very open to working with non-linguists and making connections with research on non-linguistic phenomena.

Professor Gareth Roberts will be considering new graduate students for admission for Fall 2024.

Selected Publications: 

A full list of publications is available here.

Courses Taught: 
LING 2170: Origins and Evolution of Language
LING 2190: Language Games and Cultural Evolution
LING 5170: Evolutionary Linguistics
LING 6170: Topics in the Cultural Evolution of Language