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Researchers have for the first time explained how language develops in large groups of unrelated people, without allowing some members of the group to cheat others.

Image of three monkeys - 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' © Muk Woothimanop - Shutterstock

While language plays a key role in enabling individuals in a society to cooperate through the coordination of activities, it also makes it possible for some individuals to benefit unfairly off the hard work of others.

This has posed a problem for biologists, of how language evolves in a way that ensures that the few don’t take advantage of the many - especially where individuals are unrelated and where there would be no genetic reward for those doing the bulk of the work.

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