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dc.contributor.advisorKirby, Simon
dc.contributor.advisorSmith, Kenneth
dc.contributor.authorWinters, James Richard
dc.date.accessioned2017-09-19T15:13:06Z
dc.date.available2017-09-19T15:13:06Z
dc.date.issued2017-07-03
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1842/23546
dc.description.abstractQuestions pertaining to the unique structure and organisation of language have a long history in the field of linguistics. In recent years, researchers have explored cultural evolutionary explanations, showing how language structure emerges from weak biases amplified over repeated patterns of learning and use. One outstanding issue in these frameworks is accounting for the role of context. In particular, many linguistic phenomena are said to to be context-dependent; interpretation does not take place in a void, and requires enrichment from the current state of the conversation, the physical situation, and common knowledge about the world. Modelling the relationship between language structure and context is therefore crucial for developing a cultural evolutionary approach to language. One approach is to use statistical analyses to investigate large-scale, cross-cultural datasets. However, due to the inherent limitations of statistical analyses, especially with regards to the inadequacy of these methods to test hypotheses about causal relationships, I argue that experiments are better suited to address questions pertaining to language structure and context. From here, I present a series of artificial language experiments, with the central aim being to test how manipulations to context influence the structure and organisation of language. Experiment 1 builds upon previous work in iterated learning and communication games through demonstrating that the emergence of optimal communication systems is contingent on the contexts in which languages are learned and used. The results show that language systems gradually evolve to only encode information that is informative for conveying the intended meaning of the speaker - resulting in markedly different systems of communication. Whereas Experiment 1 focused on how context influences the emergence of structure, Experiments 2 and 3 investigate under what circumstances do manipulations to context result in the loss of structure. While the results are inconclusive across these two experiments, there is tentative evidence that manipulations to context can disrupt structure, but only when interacting with other factors. Lastly, Experiment 4 investigates whether the degree of signal autonomy (the capacity for a signal to be interpreted without recourse to contextual information) is shaped by manipulations to contextual predictability: the extent to which a speaker can estimate and exploit contextual information a hearer uses in interpreting an utterance. When the context is predictable, speakers organise languages to be less autonomous (more context-dependent) through combining linguistic signals with contextual information to reduce effort in production and minimise uncertainty in comprehension. By decreasing contextual predictability, speakers increasingly rely on strategies that promote more autonomous signals, as these signals depend less on contextual information to discriminate between possible meanings. Overall, these experiments provide proof-of-concept for investigating the relationship between language structure and context, showing that the organisational principles underpinning language are the result of competing pressures from context, cognition, and communication.en
dc.contributor.sponsorArts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)en
dc.language.isoenen
dc.publisherThe University of Edinburghen
dc.relation.hasversionPleyer, M., & Winters, J. (2014). Integrating Cognitive Linguistics and language evolution research. Theoria et Historia Scientiarum, 11: 19-43.en
dc.relation.hasversionRoberts S, Winters J (2013) Linguistic Diversity and Traffic Accidents: Lessons from Statistical Studies of Cultural Traits. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070902en
dc.relation.hasversionRoberts S. G., & Winters, J. (2012). Social structure and language structure: The new nomothetic approach. Psychology of Language and Communication, 16: 89-112.en
dc.relation.hasversionRoberts, S. G., Winters, J., & Chen, K. (2015). Future Tense and Economic Decisions: Controlling for Cultural Evolution. PLoS ONE, 10(7): e0132145. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132145.en
dc.relation.hasversionWinters, J., Kirby, S., & Smith, K. (2015). Languages adapt to their contextual niche. Language and Cognition, 7(3): 415-449. doi: 10.1017/langcog.2014.35.en
dc.subjectrole of contexten
dc.subjectcontext-dependenten
dc.subjectsignal autonomyen
dc.subjectlinguistic signalsen
dc.subjectinterpretingen
dc.subjectcontextual informationen
dc.subjectlanguage structureen
dc.titleContext, cognition and communication in languageen
dc.typeThesis or Dissertationen
dc.type.qualificationlevelDoctoralen
dc.type.qualificationnamePhD Doctor of Philosophyen


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