For those of us interested in the scientific study of language and speech (whom I will call here, for want of a better term, language scientists), keeping abreast with the relevant knowledge and scientific disciplines is becoming more and more difficult. Besides linguistics “proper” (and its classic sub-disciplines phonetics, phonology, morpho-syntax, semantics and pragmatics) now we must know some psychology, we have to be conversant in the cognitive neurosciences, understand something about language disorders and, lately, be on friendly terms with genetics. Familiarity with this latter discipline is increasingly necessary for meaningful discussions about language origins and evolution, its acquisition by children and the design of individually tailored effective second-language learning curricula, the structure of our capacity for language, and to address language and speech impediments, to mention just a few.
Unfortunately, fundamental notions of genetics are not yet part of the standard training in the language sciences, and this means that the interested language scientist must either ignore it at his/her own peril, acquire it piecemeal from heterogeneous popularization sources (with their associated uneven quality, reliability and relevance) or plunge head-on into the dense, confusing and exponentially growing primary literature. Another possibility would be to read one or more of the existing excellent introductions to genetics, genomics, biochemistry, population genetics, evolutionary theory, etc., but these are in general too broad, they address a very different audience and cover much too much material, most of it uninteresting and not directly relevant for the language scientist.
This book aims to fill this gap by offering an introduction to selected aspects of modern genetics and genomics, tailored for scientists involved in the study of language and speech. It tries to provide a condensed selection of relevant topics, briefly introducing the needed concepts, methods and results, and using – as far as possible – examples directly related to language, speech and hearing, while constantly pointing the interested reader towards important papers and recent developments and trends in these areas.