Signalling signalhood and the emergence of communication

Thomas C. Scott-Phillips, Simon Kirby, Graeme Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

A unique hallmark of human language is that it uses signals that are both learnt and symbolic. The emergence of such signals was therefore a defining event in human cognitive evolution, yet very little is known about how such a process occurs. Previous work provides some insights on how meaning can become attached to form, but a more foundational issue is presently unaddressed. How does a signal signal its own signalhood? That is, how do humans even know that communicative behaviour is indeed communicative in nature? We introduce an experimental game that has been designed to tackle this problem. We find that it is commonly resolved with a bootstrapping process, and that this process influences the final form of the communication system. Furthermore, sufficient common ground is observed to be integral to the recognition of signalhood, and the emergence of dialogue is observed to be the key step in the development of a system that can be employed to achieve shared goals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-233
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Communication
  • Emergence of communication
  • Common ground
  • Language
  • Evolution
  • Symbolism
  • Communicative intent
  • Dialogue
  • Embodiment
  • Embodied communication game


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