Language Evolution Can Be Shaped by the Structure of the World
Version of Record online: 24 JAN 2014
© 2014 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 38, Issue 4, pages 775–793, May/June 2014
How to Cite
Perfors, A. and Navarro, D. J. (2014), Language Evolution Can Be Shaped by the Structure of the World. Cognitive Science, 38: 775–793. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12102
- Issue online: 1 JUN 2014
- Version of Record online: 24 JAN 2014
- Manuscript Accepted: 10 APR 2013
- Manuscript Revised: 18 FEB 2013
- Manuscript Received: 4 JUN 2012
- ARC. Grant Numbers: DP0773794, DE120102378, FT110100431
- Language evolution;
- Iterated learning;
- Linguistic structure
Human languages vary in many ways but also show striking cross-linguistic universals. Why do these universals exist? Recent theoretical results demonstrate that Bayesian learners transmitting language to each other through iterated learning will converge on a distribution of languages that depends only on their prior biases about language and the quantity of data transmitted at each point; the structure of the world being communicated about plays no role (Griffiths & Kalish, 2005, 2007). We revisit these findings and show that when certain assumptions about the relationship between language and the world are abandoned, learners will converge to languages that depend on the structure of the world as well as their prior biases. These theoretical results are supported with a series of experiments showing that when human learners acquire language through iterated learning, the ultimate structure of those languages is shaped by the structure of the meanings to be communicated.