A model of population dynamics applied to phonetic change

Abstract

We consider the problem of language evolution in a population setting, focusing on the case of continuous parameter learning. While theories of phonetic change tend to emphasize the types of transmission errors that could give rise to a shift in pronunciation norms, it is challenging to develop a model that allows for both stability as well as change. We model the acquisition of vowel-to-vowel coarticulation in both single- and multiple-teacher settings, considering progressively more restrictive prior learning biases. We demonstrate that both stability and change are possible at the population level, but only under fairly strong assumptions about the nature of learning and production biases.


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