Effects of transmission perturbation in the cultural evolution of language


Two factors seem to play a major role in the cultural evolution of language. On the one hand, there is pressure towards efficient transfer of information. On the other hand, languages are learned repeatedly and will therefore show traces of systematic stochastic disturbances of the transmission of linguistic knowledge. A lot of attention has been paid to the effects of learning biases on the transmission of language, but there is reason to expect that the class of relevant transmission perturbations is much larger. This paper therefore explores some potential effects of transmission noise due to errors in the observation of states of the world. We look at three case studies on vagueness, meaning deflation, and underspecified lexical meaning. These studies suggest that transmission perturbations other than learning biases might help explain attested linguistic patterns and that perturbations due to perceptual noise may even produce effects very similar to learning biases.

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