Compression and communication in the cultural evolution of linguistic structure

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


Language exhibits striking systematic structure. Words
are composed of combinations of reusable sounds, and those
words in turn are combined to form complex sentences.
These properties make language unique among natural com-
munication systems and enable our species to convey an
open-ended set of messages. We provide a cultural evolution-
ary account of the origins of this structure. We show, using
simulations of rational learners and laboratory experiments,
that structure arises from a trade-off between pressures for
compressibility (imposed during learning) and expressivity
(imposed during communication). We further demonstrate
that the relative strength of these two pressures can be varied
in different social contexts, leading to novel predictions about
the emergence of structured behaviour in the wild.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsA. Papafragou, D. Grodner, D. Mirman, J. C. Truswell
Place of PublicationAustin, TX
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages2
ISBN (Print)978-0-9911967-3-9
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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