This course is discontinued

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

Linguistics and evolutionary biology have interesting parallels and analogies. Both disciplines are concerned with the evolution and dispersal of humans. Language is arguably a genetically transmitted trait, specific to humans, and the evolution of language is closely linked to the evolution of human cognition. Increasing understanding of the human genome and human genetic diversity provide new opportunities for understanding our evolutionary history. Genetic research is generating huge amounts of data, and the interpretation of these data in the context of information derived from archaeology and linguistics is making an important contribution to understanding of our origins, dispersal and culture. In recent years, the field of linguistics has borrowed biological metaphors to explain language variation and change. Whereas in the past the understanding of evolution, including language evolution, relied solely on archaeological and fossil data, the field of genetics will play an increasingly important role in the study of our species.

Learning outcome

By means of lectures and seminars you will gain insight into the new and rapidly changing field of language evolution. The seminars depend on wide reading, and critical evaluation of primary literature in a range of subjects. An important aspect of the course is active participation in the discussions, which in past years have included students of various subjects, including archaeology, philosophy and linguistics, as well as biology. The course will develop skills in the ability to deal with a wide range of different material, often contradictory, as well as provide some answers to the question of what makes us human.


PhD candidates from the University of Oslo should apply for classes and register for examinations through Studentweb.

If a course has limited intake capacity, priority will be given to PhD candidates who follow an individual education plan where this particular course is included. Some national researchers’ schools may have specific rules for ranking applicants for courses with limited intake capacity.

PhD candidates who have been admitted to another higher education institution must apply for a position as a visiting student within a given deadline.


The courses BIO4270 and BIO9270 have common admission. Applicants are ranked by the following criteria:
1. PhD students and master students at the MN faculty who have the course as part of the approved curriculum.
2. Other PhD students and visiting PhD students.
3. Students with admission to single courses on master’s level and exchange students
4. Applicants are ranked by credits in each group; all applicants within 1st rank before applicants in 2nd etc. If admission is limited to a fixed number of participants, admission will be decided by drawing lots for students who are ranked equally


Recommended previous knowledge

Bachelor in Biology.

Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with BIO4270 – Evolution and Language (discontinued)


The course is given in the second part of the spring semester, week 10-16. Lectures and seminars. The students will present and discuss literature of the topic.

First lecture is mandatory.  If you can not attend the first lecture, please send a note to, before the first lecture.


To pass the course, the Ph.D-student must

  • attend the sessions.
  • participate actively in the discussions (which presumes that they have read the material that is set for each session).
  • write two essays(4-5 pages).
  • give a presentation of one of the essays.
    The final grade will be given based on the two written essay and the presentation (50:50).

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a pass/fail scale. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

This course offers both postponed and resit of examination. Read more:

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.


The course is only given if three or more students meet on the first lecture.

Facts about this course






Every other spring starting 2017

The course will be given next time spring 2019


Every other spring starting 2017

Teaching language