The Co‐evolution of Speech and the Lexicon: The Interaction of Functional Pressures, Redundancy, and Category Variation

Topics in Cognitive Science 8 (2):503-513 (2016)
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The sound system of a language must be able to support a perceptual contrast between different words in order to signal communicatively relevant meaning distinctions. In this paper, we use a simple agent-based exemplar model in which the evolution of sound-category systems is understood as a co-evolutionary process, where the range of variation within sound categories is constrained by functional pressure to keep different words perceptually distinct. We show that this model can reproduce several observed effects on the range of sound variation. We argue that phonological systems can be seen as finding a relative optimum of variation: Efficient communication is sustained while at the same time, hidden category variation provides pathways for future evolution.



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