Linguistic structure is an evolutionary trade-off between simplicity and expressivity

Abstract

Language exhibits structure: a species-unique system for expressing complex meanings using complex forms. We present a review of modelling and experimental literature on the evolution of structure which suggests that structure is a cultural adaptation in response to pressure for expressivity (arising during communication) and compressibility (arising during learning), and test this hypothesis using a new Bayesian iterated learning model. We conclude that linguistic structure can and should be explained as a consequence of cultural evolution in response to these two pressures.


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