Communication systems are shaped by learning, use and transmission: insights from atypical birdsong and artificial languages
A comparative approach focusing on the behavioural mechanisms that underlie vocal learning in songbirds and humans can provide valuable insights into the evolutionary origins of language and the processes that shape it. I use abnormal song and atypical linguistic input to study individual learning, social interaction and cultural transmission in these two systems. Atypical input places increased learning and communicative pressure on learners, and exploring how learners respond to this type of input provides a particularly clear picture of the biases and constraints acting during learning and use. In the first part of my talk, I will present experimental findings on how auditory feedback during development influences the acquisition of abnormal song in zebra finches. In the second part, I will focus on the effect of dyadic interaction on the regularisation of unpredictable variation, a type of variation not normally present in natural languages. Results from birdsong and human language experiments suggest that both individual learning and social communicative mechanisms impact on the structure of these communication systems, and that social biases mediate this process.