Emergence of vowel-like organization in a color-based communication system

AbstractVowel systems exhibit organization, and several theoretical accounts have been proposed to explain this. A prominent account explains organization in terms of maximizing the dispersion of vowels, increasing acoustic perceptibility while reducing articulatory effort. This implies modality-independence, but leaves open questions about the extent to which dispersion is driven by articulatory or acoustic pressures. We investigated whether vowel-like organization would emerge in a novel visual communication system in the laboratory, in which participants took turns to send color signals to communicate a set of animal referents by moving their fingers around a color space. We manipulated the extent to which sender and receiver needs were aligned. Overall, systems exhibited significant levels of dispersion; participants also took into account receiver needs, with consequences for the structure of the resulting systems.

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