Adaptive Communication: Languages with more non-native speakers have fewer word forms
Department of Applied and Theoretical Linguistics, University of Cambridge
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Bentz, C., Verkerk, A., Kiela, D., Hill, F., & Buttery, P. (2015). Adaptive Communication: Languages with more non-native speakers have fewer word forms. PLOS ONE, 10 (e0128254)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128254
Explaining the diversity of languages across the world is one of the central aims of typological, historical and evolutionary linguistics. We consider the effect of language contact - the number of non-native speakers a language has - on the way languages change and evolve. By analysing hundreds of languages within and across language families, regions and text types, we show that languages with greater levels of contact typically employ fewer word forms to encode the same information content (a property we refer to as lexical diversity ). Based on three types of statistical analyses, we demonstrate that this variance can in part be explained by the impact of non-native speakers on information encoding strategies. Finally, we argue that languages are information encoding systems shaped by the varying needs of their speakers. Language evolution and change should be modeled as the co-evolution of multiple intertwined adaptive systems: On one hand, the structure of human societies and human learning capabilities, and on the other, the structure of language.
CB is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) doctoral grant (reference number: 04325), a grant from the Cambridge Home and European Scholarship Scheme, and by Cambridge English, University of Cambridge. AV is supported by ERC grant 'The evolution of human languages' (reference number: 268744). DK is supported by EPSRC grant EP/I037512/1. FH is funded by a Benefactor's Scholarship of St. John's College, Cambridge. PB is supported by Cambridge English, University of Cambridge.
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128254
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/248252
Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 UK
Licence URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/uk/