How efficiency shapes human language

Edward Gibson, Richard Futrell, Steven T. Piandadosi, Isabelle Dautriche, Kyle Mahowald, Leon Bergen, Roger Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We review recent research on the burgeoning topic of how language structure is shaped by principles of efficiency for communication and learning.

Work in this area has infused long-standing ideas in linguistics and psychology with new precision and methodological rigor by bringing together information theory, newly available datasets, controlled experimentation, and computational modeling.

We review a number of studies that focus on phenomena ranging from the lexicon through syntactic processes, and which deploy formal tools from information theory and probability theory to understand how and why language works the way that it does.

These studies show how a pervasive pressure for efficient usage guides the form of natural language and suggest a rich future for language research in connecting linguistics to cognitive psychology and mathematical theories of communication.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Early online date18 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Apr 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • language evolution
  • communication
  • language efficiency
  • cross linguistic universals
  • language learnability
  • language complexity


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