Colloquia Green

– Modeling language evolution: Principles and parameters –

Language is the product of two qualitatively very different evolutionary processes. Through biological evolution, people slowly became “language ready” as the social, physical, and cognitive prerequisites of language were established. In the subsequent process of cultural evolution, it was mostly the language itself that changed as a result of being used and learned across many generations of speakers.

A fundamental task for the study of language evolution is to determine what goes where. Given the nature of the two processes and our current knowledge about the genome and development of the brain, it is desirable to explain language-particular phenomena as much as possible through cultural evolution, reserving biological evolution for more basic capacities only. Still, it needs to be shown how exactly language particular features could have emerged from more general principles.

For this, I have developed an artificial intelligence computer simulation of cultural language evolution. It is assumed that speakers initially have a lexicon of referential items only. In addition, principles of change are implemented that have been established independently in the literature.

In this talk, I will first show how it is possible to model the emergence of such sophisticated grammatical phenomena as case marking, person indexing, and pronominal paradigms. Next, I will discuss some of the design choices that have to be made to do this in a valid way.

2 MAR 2017 | MPI Room 163 | 15.45 – 17.00