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Appears in Collections:Literature and Languages Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: The inferential transmission of language
Author(s): Smith, Andrew D M
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Keywords: Language acquisition
Language change
Language evolution
Meaning inference
Cultural transmission
Cross-situational learning
Issue Date: Dec-2005
Date Deposited: 6-Aug-2012
Citation: Smith ADM (2005) The inferential transmission of language. Adaptive Behavior, 13 (4), pp. 311-324.
Abstract: Language is a symbolic, culturally transmitted system of communication, which is learnt through the inference of meaning. In this paper, I describe the importance of meaning inference, not only in language acquisition, but also in developing a unified explanation for language change and evolution. Using an agent-based computational model of meaning creation and communication, I show how the meanings of words can be inferred through disambiguation across multiple contexts, using cross-situational statistical learning. I demonstrate that the uncertainty inherent in the process of meaning inference, moreover, leads to stable variation in both conceptual and lexical structure, providing evidence which helps to explain how language changes rapidly without losing communicability. Finally, I describe how an inferential model of communication may provide important theoretical insights into plausible explanations of the bootstrapping of, and the subsequent progressive complexification of, cultural communication systems.
DOI Link: 10.1177/105971230501300402
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