Fitness landscapes in cultural language evolution


Computational experiments in cultural language evolution are important because they help to reveal the cognitive mechanisms and cultural processes that continuously shape and reshape the structure and knowledge of language. However, understanding the intricate relations between these mechanisms and processes can be a daunting challenge. This paper proposes to recruit the concept of fitness landscapes from evolutionary biology and computer science for visualizing the ?linguistic fitness? of particular language systems. Through a case study on the German paradigm of definite articles, the paper shows how such landscapes can shed a new and unexpected light on non-trivial cases of language evolution. More specifically, the case study falsifies the widespread assumption that the paradigm is the accidental by-product of linguistic erosion. Instead, it has evolved to optimize the cognitive and perceptual resources that language users employ for achieving successful communication.

Published/Presented: World Scientific Press
Page: 334–341