February 9th: Annie Holtz – Progress Report

Cultural evolution creates duality of patterning: the role of population structure in the simplicity/expressivity trade-off

Annie Holtz, University of Edinburgh

Tuesday, Feb 9 2021, 11:00-12:00 GMT
Zoom Details: [Please Request]

In this progress report I examine previously observed simplicity and naturalness effects in syntax and propose that these concepts can be reformulated as biases that belong to two different categories, namely system-wide and item-specific biases. I illustrate how simplicity effects, such as word order harmony, are grounded in system-wide evaluation of linguistic information by learners. Similarly, I draw on analyses of homomorphism and how the semantics of event types can condition word order as examples of how item-specific biases give rise to word order patterns. I present typological data and discuss how the effects of these two kinds of biases can combine to generate strong cross-linguistic patterns. However, the combined effect of item-specific and system-wide biases makes it hard to disambiguate their individual influence on language structure. I propose that we can disentangle the effects of these two types of biases by identifying instances in which they compete within the same linguistic structure. I also discuss how manipulating the experimental task to include varying amounts of innovation might allow us to identify under which conditions item-specific and system-wide biases influence linguistic behaviour.