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Artificial Life

Spring 2006, Vol. 12, No. 2, Pages 229-242
(doi: 10.1162/artl.2006.12.2.229)
© 2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Understanding Linguistic Evolution by Visualizing the Emergence of Topographic Mappings
Article PDF (2.6 MB)

We show how cultural selection for learnability during the process of linguistic evolution can be visualized using a simple iterated learning model. Computational models of linguistic evolution typically focus on the nature of, and conditions for, stable states. We take a novel approach and focus on understanding the process of linguistic evolution itself. What kind of evolutionary system is this process? Using visualization techniques, we explore the nature of replicators in linguistic evolution, and argue that replicators correspond to local regions of regularity in the mapping between meaning and signals. Based on this argument, we draw parallels between phenomena observed in the model and linguistic phenomena observed across languages. We then go on to identify issues of replication and selection as key points of divergence in the parallels between the processes of linguistic evolution and biological evolution.