Iterated Teaching Can Optimize Language Functionality

Vera Kempe, Kamil Cichon, Nicolas Gauvrit, Monica Tamariz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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Experimental studies of the cultural evolution of language have focused on how constraints on learning and communication drive emergence of linguistic structure. Yet language is typically transmitted by experts who adjust the input in ways that facilitates learning by novices, e.g. through child-directed speech. Using iterated language learning of binary auditory sequences, we explored how language change is affected by experts’ intention to teach the language to novices. Comparison between teaching chains and simple transmission chains revealed that teaching led to a greater rate of innovation which drove the emergence of more expressive languages consisting of shorter signals. This is the first study to show that during cultural transmission, teaching can modify, and potentially optimize, functional characteristics of language.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 39th Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2017
Event39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society 2017 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jul 201729 Jul 2017


Conference39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society 2017
Abbreviated titleCogSci 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Teaching
  • iterated language learning
  • cultural transmission
  • algorithmic complexity
  • compositional structure
  • combinatorial structure


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