The Emergence and Development of Structural Systematicity in Language

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Philosophy Psychology & Language

Abstract

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Publications

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Andrew D.M. Smith (Author) (2010) Exploring the nature of a systematicity bias : an experimental study in 8th International Conference on the Evolution of Language

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Claidière N (2012) Effect of psychological bias separates cultural from biological evolution. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Kenny Smith (Author) (2009) Reconsidering human cross-situational learning capacities : a revision to Yu & Smith's (2007) experimental paradigm in 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society

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Kirby S (2017) Culture and biology in the origins of linguistic structure. in Psychonomic bulletin & review

 
Description Our central finding is that systematicity in language is a cultural adaptation arising from the influence of naive learners on the transmission of language in a communicative context. We first developed some of the analytical techniques for language evolution experiments and then greatly extended the methodology by adding a communicative context, thereby avoiding the need for the previous experiments' artificial interventions to maintain the expressivity of the evolving language. In addition, we are now able to contrast horizontal and vertical cultural transmission, and by doing so show that it is transmission to naive learners that is critical for language to evolve a systematic (i.e. compositional) mapping between meanings and signals. This is a surprise, since the standard assumption in the cultural evolution literature is that there are few significant differences between horizontal and vertical transmission. In addition to examining the effect of transmission, our experiment allows us to look at the effect of negotiation and the communicative nature of the task. We also investigated the effects of the level of systematicity in a language on how well it is learned and reproduced. Our demonstration of the crucial role for cultural transmission has significant implications for the nativist hypothesis, and we have taken advantage of the grant being situated within the Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit to collaborate with other researchers and identify the effect of interaction between cultural and biological evolution using a Bayesian model. The striking result is that the existence of cultural transmission of language means that there are no conditions under which strong domain-specific innate constraints will evolve. Our experiments are predicated on the assumption that learners have the ability to infer the meanings reliably in an interaction. To support this conclusion, we have collaborated with other researchers in the research unit to explore cross-situational learning of meaning-signal pairs using both experiments and computational models which we reported in the journal Cognitive Science.
Exploitation Route This grant has lead to an overarching theory of the evolution of structure in language as arising from a trade-off between simplicity (driven by learning) and expressivity (driven by communication). This finding can be generalised to a wide range of phenomena in language beyond the basic design features that we looked at. In addition it can be exte e. For example, music trades off simplicity and expressivity in much the same way, and this may lead to its characteristic structure. A similar process may even be at the root of complex behaviour in other species, such as in song birds with large song repertoires.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

 
Description Culture evolves : case study 6 : evolving language in the lab 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was part of an interactive exhibit shown at a number of science festivals and events, most notably the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary Summer Science Exhibition in London from 25th June to 4th July 2010. Simon Kirby created the an interactive experiment using two iPad's and a computer that allowed members of the public to understand the cultural evolution experiments that were developed further in the project. More information here: http://www.cultureevolves.org/caseStudy6.aspx



This has since been shown at the Dundee Science Festival, Nov 14th 2010; the Edinburgh Science Festival, 1st-4th April 2012; and the British Science Festival in Aberdeen, 4-9th September 2012

Substantial interest in cultural evolution generated among wide range of public
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.cultureevolves.org/caseStudy6.aspx
 
Description Form-meaning systemacity and language evolu/on 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited talk by Monica Tamariz at the Department of Linguistics, University of Tuebingen, Germany, in September 2009.

Influence on academic colleagues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Language as an evolutionary system : a multidisciplinary approach : workshop discussant 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited discussant at workshop on Language as an Evolutionary System http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~monica/programme

http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~monica/programme
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Meaning as a selective pressure in the evolution of linguistic structure 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited talk by Monica Tamariz given at "Language as an Evolutionary System: A Multidisciplinary Approach". Edinburgh, 13 July 2010.

Influence on academic field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Nijmegen lectures 2009 invited discussant 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited discussant at the 2009 Nijmegen Lectures http://www.mpi.nl/events/nijmegen-lectures-2009/participants

http://www.mpi.nl/events/nijmegen-lectures-2009/participants
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description The role of analysis and recombination in the evolution of language structure 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk given at the Lingusitic Circle, Department of Lingusitics and English Language, The University of Edinburgh (March 2009)

Recognition by potential collaborators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011