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Andrea Baronchelli
Andrea Puglisi
Vittorio Loreto
Individual biases, cultural evolution, and the statistical nature of language universals: The case of colour naming systems


Language universals have long been attributed to an innate Universal Grammar. An alternative explanation states that linguistic universals emerged independently in every language in response to shared cognitive or perceptual biases. A computational model has recently shown how this could be the case, focusing on the paradigmatic example of the universal properties of colour naming patterns, and producing results in quantitative agreement with the experimental data. Here we investigate the role of an individual perceptual bias in the framework of the model. We study how, and to what extent, the structure of the bias influences the corresponding linguistic universal patterns. We show that the cultural history of a group of speakers introduces population-specific constraints that act against the pressure for uniformity arising from the individual bias, and we clarify the interplay between these two forces.

Published/Presented: Public Library of Science
Journal: PloS one
Page: e0125019
Volume: 10