Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Appears in Collections:Psychology Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Compression and communication in the cultural evolution of linguistic structure
Authors: Kirby, Simon
Tamariz, Monica
Cornish, Hannah
Smith, Kenny
Contact Email:
Keywords: Cultural transmission
Language evolution
Iterated learning
Issue Date: Aug-2015
Publisher: Elsevier
Citation: Kirby S, Tamariz M, Cornish H & Smith K (2015) Compression and communication in the cultural evolution of linguistic structure, Cognition, 141, pp. 87-102.
Abstract: Language exhibits striking systematic structure. Words are composed of combinations of reusable sounds, and those words in turn are combined to form complex sentences. These properties make language unique among natural communication systems and enable our species to convey an open-ended set of messages. We provide a cultural evolutionary account of the origins of this structure. We show, using simulations of rational learners and laboratory experiments, that structure arises from a trade-off between pressures for compressibility (imposed during learning) and expressivity (imposed during communication). We further demonstrate that the relative strength of these two pressures can be varied in different social contexts, leading to novel predictions about the emergence of structured behaviour in the wild.
Type: Journal Article
DOI Link:
Rights: Copyright 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
Affiliation: University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Kirby et al_Cognition_2015.pdf961.14 kBAdobe PDFView/Open

This item is protected by original copyright

Items in the Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.

If you believe that any material held in STORRE infringes copyright, please contact providing details and we will remove the Work from public display in STORRE and investigate your claim.