Modeling the Emergence of Lexicons in Homesign Systems

Article, Other literature type English OPEN
Richie, Russell ; Yang, Charles ; Coppola, Marie (2013)
  • Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1111/tops.12076
  • Subject: Social and Behavioral Sciences | Article

It is largely acknowledged that natural languages emerge from not just human brains, but also from rich communities of interacting human brains (Senghas, 2005). Yet the precise role of such communities and such interaction in the emergence of core properties of language has largely gone uninvestigated in naturally emerging systems, leaving the few existing computational investigations of this issue at an artificial setting. Here we take a step towards investigating the precise role of community structure in the emergence of linguistic conventions with both naturalistic empirical data and computational modeling. We first show conventionalization of lexicons in two different classes of naturally emerging signed systems: (1) protolinguistic “homesigns” invented by linguistically isolated Deaf individuals, and (2) a natural sign language emerging in a recently formed rich Deaf community. We find that the latter conventionalized faster than the former. Second, we model conventionalization as a population of interacting individuals who adjust their probability of sign use in response to other individuals' actual sign use, following an independently motivated model of language learning (Yang 2002, 2004). Simulations suggest that a richer social network, like that of natural (signed) languages, conventionalizes faster than a sparser social network, like that of homesign systems. We discuss our behavioral and computational results in light of other work on language emergence, and other work of behavior on complex networks.
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