Linguistic Structure Evolves to Match Meaning Structure

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    Quantitative analysis has usually highlighted the random nature of linguistic forms (Zipf, 1949). We zoom in on three structured samples of language (numerals; playing cards; and a corpus of artificial languages from Kirby, Cornish & Smith 2008) to quantitative explore and illustrate the idea that linguistic forms are nonrandom in that their structure reflects the structure of the meanings they convey. A novel methodology returns frequency spectra showing the distribution of character n-gram frequencies in our language amples. These spectra, purely derived from linguistic form, clearly reflect the quantitative structure of the underlying meaning spaces, as verified with a new information theoretical metric of compositionality. Moreover, analyses of a diachronic corpus of languages show that linguistic structure gradually adapts to match the structure of meanings over cultural transmission.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
    EditorsLaura Carlson , Christoph Hölscher , Thomas F. Shipley
    PublisherCognitive Science Society
    Number of pages6
    ISBN (Print)978-0-9768318-7-7
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    Event33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society - Boston, Massachusetts, United States
    Duration: 20 Jul 201123 Jul 2011


    Conference33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
    Abbreviated titleCogSci 2011
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityBoston, Massachusetts


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