October 8: Matt Spike

Unravelling linguistic complexity

Matt Spike (CLE, University of Edinburgh)

Tuesday, October 8,
11:30am – 12:30pm
Room G32, 7 George Square

Linguistic complexity is hard to pull apart. What are the causally important variables – utterances, grammars, individuals, or populations? How can we measure complexity – inherent factors (e.g. processing cost and ecological fitness), statistical properties (e.g. counts, frequency, and information-theoretic quantities), or system-level descriptions (e.g. MDL or generative models)? What is an appropriate model for the evolution of complexity – biologically-inspired processes (e.g. selection, mutation, drift, migration, and interactions such as mutualisms), or culture-specific ones (e.g. guided variation and biased transmission)? Finally, how can we map between the candidate variables, measures, and models? In this talk, I will focus on this mapping problem by presenting some modelling work which shows i) how seemingly minor decisions can have major implications, ii) the importance of multilevel processes, and iii) how some variables (such as population size) have effects which are robust across multiple mappings.