Human languages are extraordinarily complex adaptive systems. They feature intricate hierarchical sound structures, are able to express elaborate meanings and use sophisticated syntactic and semantic structures to relate sound to meaning. What are the cognitive mechanisms that speakers and listeners need to create and sustain such a remarkable system? What is the collective evolutionary dynamics that allows a language to self-organize, become more complex and adapt to changing challenges in expressive power? This paper focuses on grammar. It presents a basic cycle observed in the historical language record, whereby meanings move from lexical to syntactic and then to a morphological mode of expression before returning to a lexical mode, and discusses how we can discover and validate mechanisms that can cause these shifts using agent-based models.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘The major synthetic evolutionary transitions’.
One contribution of 13 to a theme issue ‘The major synthetic evolutionary transitions’.
- Accepted May 11, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.