A Bottom-up approach to the cultural evolution of bilingualism


The relationship between individual cognition and cultural phenomena at the society level can be transformed by cultural transmission (Kirby, Dowman, & Griffiths, 2007). Top-down models of this process have typically assumed that individuals only adopt a single linguistic trait. Recent extensions include ‘bilingual’ agents, able to adopt multiple linguistic traits (Burkett & Griffiths, 2010). However, bilingualism is more than variation within an individual: it involves the conditional use of variation with different interlocutors. That is, bilingualism is a property of a population that emerges from use. A bottom-up simulation is presented where learners are sensitive to the identity of other speakers. The simulation reveals that dynamic social structures are a key factor for the evolution of bilingualism in a population, a feature that was abstracted away in the top-down models. Top-down and bottom-up approaches may lead to different answers, but can work together to reveal and explore important features of the cultural transmission process.

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