George van Driem


Symbiosism is a Darwinian theory of language that recognises language as a semiotic organism residing in the human brain. By the Leiden definition, memes are signs in the Saussurean sense, i.e. isofunctional neuroanatomical constructs corresponding to meanings and their associated phonological forms. Meanings thrive and replicate and constitute the essence of language. Meanings have the mathematical properties of non-constructible sets and do not abide by the constraints governing Aristotelian logic such as the principle of the excluded middle. Linguistic signs most often travel in syntactically articulated packs, which enhances their fecundity as replicators.

The language organism is a mutualist symbiont living in a mutually beneficial relationship with its hominid host. Humans propagate language, whilst language furnishes the conceptual universe that informs and shapes the thinking of the hominid host. Language enables the host to conceptualise its environment by manipulating mental categories created within language. Language enhances the Darwinian fitness of the human species, yet not all linguistically mediated constructs are beneficial. The anatomy of this symbiosis is complex.


Symbiomism is the cheerful philosophy about mind and man’s place in nature that grew out of Symbiosism. Man is as much his human body as he is the language that dwells within his brain and mediates most of his thinking. Good health is the state in which both constituent symbionts are healthy and abide in some sort of happy and wholesome equilibrium.

Symbiomism diagnoses religions, mythologies, ideologies and other autonomous belief systems to be diseases of language, sustained by our natural propensity for narrative. Symbiomism furnishes a scientific culture theory for understanding human identity, enhancing individual and collective mental health and informing minimally interventionist culture management. Both Symbiosism and Symbiomism are outlined in the forthcoming book The Language Organism.


Kraaijenbrink, Thirsa, and Emma J. Parkin, Denise R. Carvalho-Silva, George van Driem, Guido Barbujani, Chris Tyler-Smith, Mark A. Jobling, Peter de Knijff. 2009. ‘Genetic and linguistic borders in the Himalayan region’, pp. 181-201 in Francesco d’Errico and Jean-Marie Hombert, eds., Becoming Eloquent: Advances in the Emergence of Language, Human Cognition and Modern Cultures. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

van Driem, George. 2009. ‘Genetische evolutie en de evolutie van taal’, Evolutie zit in je genen: Over Darwin en Genomics. Bio-Wetenschappen en Maatschappij, 28 (1): 44-45.

van Driem, George. 2008. ‘The origin of language: Symbiosism and Symbiomism’, pp. 381-400 in John D. Bengtson, ed., In Hot Pursuit of Language in Prehistory: Essays in the Four Fields of Anthropology in Honor of Harold Crane Fleming on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

van Driem, George. 2008. ‘The language organism: Parasite or mutualist?’, pp. 101-112, Vol. 2 in Rick Derksen, Jeroen Wiedenhof and Sjoerd Siebinga, eds., Evidence and Counter-Evidence: Essays in Honour of Frederik Kortlandt (Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics, vol. 33). Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.

van Driem, George. 2007. ‘A holistic approach to the fine art of grammar writing: The Dallas Manifesto’, pp. 93-184 in Novel Kishore Rai, Yogendra Prasad Yadav, Bhim N. Regmi and Balaram Prasain, eds., Recent Studies in Nepalese Linguistics. Kathmandu: Linguistic Society of Nepal.

van Driem, George. 2005. ‘The language organism: The Leiden theory of language evolution’, pp. 331-340 in James W. Minett and William S-Y. Wang, eds., Language Acquisition, Change and Emergence: Essays in Evolutionary Linguistics. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.

van Driem, George. 2004. ‘Language as organism: A brief introduction to the Leiden theory of language evolution’, pp. 1-9 in Ying-chin Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.-S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang and Dah-ah Ho, eds., Studies on Sino-Tibetan Languages: Papers in Honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his Seventieth Birthday (Language and Linguistics Monograph Series W-4). Taipei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

van Driem, George. 2004. Book Review: ‘Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings. 2 vols. Ed. by Cliff Goddard and Anna Wierzbicka. (Studies in Language Companion Series.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. ISBN 1588112640. $80(Hb.)’, Language, 80 (1): 163-165.

van Driem, George. 2003. ‘The Language Organism: The Leiden theory of language evolution’, in Jiří Mírovský, Anna Kotěšovcová and Eva Hajičová, eds., Proceedings of the XVIIth International Congress of Linguists, Prague, July 24-29, 2003. Prague: Matfyzpress vydavatelství Matematicko-fyzikální fakulty Univerzity Karlovy.

van Driem, George. 2001. Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region, containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language (2 volumes). Leiden: Brill.

van Driem, George. 2001. Taal en Taalwetenschap. Leiden: Onderzoeksschool voor Aziatische, Afrikaanse en Amerindische Studies.

Publications on other themes

Publications on other themes can be found at: