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Journal Article

The evolution of tag-based cooperation in humans: The case for accent


Cohen,  Emma
Comparative Cognitive Anthropology, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology;
Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology of the University of Oxford;

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Cohen, E. (2012). The evolution of tag-based cooperation in humans: The case for accent. Current Anthropology, 53, 588-616. doi:10.1086/667654.

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Recent game-theoretic simulation and analytical models have demonstrated that cooperative strategies mediated by indicators of cooperative potential, or “tags,” can invade, spread, and resist invasion by noncooperators across a range of population-structure and cost-benefit scenarios. The plausibility of these models is potentially relevant for human evolutionary accounts insofar as humans possess some phenotypic trait that could serve as a reliable tag. Linguistic markers, such as accent and dialect, have frequently been either cursorily defended or promptly dismissed as satisfying the criteria of a reliable and evolutionarily viable tag. This paper integrates evidence from a range of disciplines to develop and assess the claim that speech accent mediated the evolution of tag-based cooperation in humans. Existing evidence warrants the preliminary conclusion that accent markers meet the demands of an evolutionarily viable tag and potentially afforded a cost-effective solution to the challenges of maintaining viable cooperative relationships in diffuse, regional social networks.