Combinatorial structure and iconicity in artificial whistled languages


This article reports on an experiment in which artificial languages with whistle words for novel objects are culturally transmitted in the laboratory. The aim of this study is to investigate the origins and evolution of combinatorial structure in speech. Participants learned the whistled language and reproduced the sounds with the use of a slide whistle. Their reproductions were used as input for the next participant. Cultural transmission caused the whistled systems to become more learnable and more structured. In addition, two conditions were studied: one in which the use of iconic form-meaning mappings was possible and one in which the use of iconic map- pings was experimentally made impossible, so that we could investigate the influence of iconicity on the emergence of structure.

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