cSCAN Rounds

Studying the Cultural Evolution of Languages with Iterated Learning Experiments

In order to explain the complexity and diversity of human languages, traditional approaches have looked into human brains and minds. In this talk I will argue that a full explanation must also involve social transmission processes, notably learning and usage. I will back this claim with a review of recent experiments that have used an Iterated Learning --or serial reproduction-- paradigm. In these experiments, "the behaviour of one individual is the product of observation of similar behaviour in another individual who acquired the behaviour in the same way" (Scott-Phillips & Kirby, TiCS, 2010: 411). These studies show that important properties of languages such as regular structure, conventionality or expressivity emerge from social processes including interaction between interlocutors and learning from others.