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Artificial Life

Summer 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3, Pages 385-408
(doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00138)
@ 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Exploring the Effect of Power Law Social Popularity on Language Evolution
Article PDF (939.57 KB)

We evaluate the effect of a power-law-distributed social popularity on the origin and change of language, based on three artificial life models meticulously tracing the evolution of linguistic conventions including lexical items, categories, and simple syntax. A cross-model analysis reveals an optimal social popularity, in which the λ value of the power law distribution is around 1.0. Under this scaling, linguistic conventions can efficiently emerge and widely diffuse among individuals, thus maintaining a useful level of mutual understandability even in a big population. From an evolutionary perspective, we regard this social optimality as a tradeoff among social scaling, mutual understandability, and population growth. Empirical evidence confirms that such optimal power laws exist in many large-scale social systems that are constructed primarily via language-related interactions. This study contributes to the empirical explorations and theoretical discussions of the evolutionary relations between ubiquitous power laws in social systems and relevant individual behaviors.