Language Is a Complex Adaptive System: Position Paper

Five Graces Grp, Clay Beckner, Nick C. Ellis*, Richard Blythe, John Holland, Joan Bybee, Jinyun Ke, Morten H. Christiansen, Diane Larsen-Freeman, W. Croft, Tom Schoenemann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

Abstract

Language has a fundamentally social function. Processes of human interaction along with domain-general cognitive processes shape the structure and knowledge of language. Recent research in the cognitive sciences has demonstrated that patterns of use strongly affect how language is acquired, is used, and changes. These processes are not independent of one another but are facets of the same complex adaptive system (CAS). Language as a CAS involves the following key features: The system consists of multiple agents (the speakers in the speech community) interacting with one another. The system is adaptive; that is, speakers' behavior is based on their past interactions, and current and past interactions together feed forward into future behavior. A speaker's behavior is the consequence of competing factors ranging from perceptual constraints to social motivations. The structures of language emerge from interrelated patterns of experience, social interaction, and cognitive mechanisms. The CAS approach reveals commonalities in many areas of language research, including first and second language acquisition, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, language evolution, and computational modeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage Learning
Volume59
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

Keywords

  • RELATIVE CLAUSES
  • ACQUISITION
  • EVOLUTION
  • LINGUISTICS
  • INFANTS
  • INTERLANGUAGE
  • EMERGENCE
  • GRAMMAR
  • LEXICON
  • MODELS

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