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Table 2 Some parallels between biological and linguistic evolution

From: Q&A: What is human language, when did it evolve and why should we care?

Biological evolution Language evolution
Discrete heritable units (for example, nucleotides, amino acids and genes) Discrete heritable units (for example, words, phonemes and syntax)
DNA copying Teaching, learning and imitation
Mutation (for example, many mechanisms yielding genetic alterations) Innovation (for example, formant variation, mistakes, sound changes, and introduced sounds and words)
Homology Cognates
Natural selection Social selection and trends
Drift Drift
Speciation Language or cultural splitting
Concerted evolution Regular sound change
Horizontal gene transfer Borrowing
Hybridization (for example, horse with zebra and wheat with strawberry) Language Creoles (for example, Surinamese)
Geographic clines Dialects and dialect chains
Fossils Ancient texts
Extinction Language death