Generic modes of consensus formation in stochastic language dynamics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We introduce a class of stochastic models for the dynamics of two linguistic variants that are competing to become the single, shared convention within an unstructured community of speakers. Different instances of the model are distinguished by the way agents handle variability in the language (i.e., multiple forms for the same meaning). The class of models includes as special cases two previously studied models of language dynamics, the Naming Game, in which agents tend to standardize on variants that they have encountered most frequently, and the Utterance Selection Model, in which agents tend to preserve variability by uniform sampling of a pool of utterances. We reduce the full complexities of the dynamics to a single-coordinate stochastic model which allows the probability and time taken for speakers to reach consensus on a single variant to be calculated for large communities. This analysis suggests that in the broad class of models considered, consensus is formed in one of three generic ways, according to whether agents tend to eliminate, accentuate or sample neutrally the variability in the language. These different regimes are observed in simulations of the full dynamics, and for which the simplified model in some cases makes good quantitative predictions. We use these results, along with comparisons with related models, to conjecture the likely behaviour of more general models, and further make use of empirical data to argue that in reality, biases away from neutral sampling behaviour are likely to be small.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberP02059
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages35
Journal Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • interacting agent models
  • stochastic processes
  • diffusion


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