Complex systems in language evolution

The cultural emergence of compositional structure

K Smith*, H Brighton, S Kirby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Language arises from the interaction of three complex adaptive systems - biological evolution, learning, and culture. We focus here on cultural evolution, and present an Iterated Learning Model of the emergence of compositionality, a fundamental structural property of language. Our main result is to show that the poverty of the stimulus available to language learners leads to a pressure for linguistic structure. When there is a bottleneck on cultural transmission, only a language which is generalizable from sparse input data is stable. Language itself evolves on a cultural time-scale, and compositionality is language's adaptation to stimulus poverty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-558
Number of pages22
JournalAdvances in Complex Systems
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • language
  • cultural evolution
  • compositionality
  • COMMUNICATION
  • SELECTION
  • SYNTAX

Cite this

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Complex systems in language evolution : The cultural emergence of compositional structure. / Smith, K; Brighton, H; Kirby, S.

In: Advances in Complex Systems, Vol. 6, No. 4, 12.2003, p. 537-558.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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T1 - Complex systems in language evolution

T2 - The cultural emergence of compositional structure

AU - Smith, K

AU - Brighton, H

AU - Kirby, S

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AB - Language arises from the interaction of three complex adaptive systems - biological evolution, learning, and culture. We focus here on cultural evolution, and present an Iterated Learning Model of the emergence of compositionality, a fundamental structural property of language. Our main result is to show that the poverty of the stimulus available to language learners leads to a pressure for linguistic structure. When there is a bottleneck on cultural transmission, only a language which is generalizable from sparse input data is stable. Language itself evolves on a cultural time-scale, and compositionality is language's adaptation to stimulus poverty.

KW - language

KW - cultural evolution

KW - compositionality

KW - COMMUNICATION

KW - SELECTION

KW - SYNTAX

U2 - 10.1142/S0219525903001055

DO - 10.1142/S0219525903001055

M3 - Article

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JO - Advances in Complex Systems

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