LEC talk 10th March: Richard Blythe

By Kevin | March 5, 2015

Tues 10th March 11-12.30, Room G32, 7 George Square

Richard Blythe

Emergence of Typological Universals

Apparently equivalent variants of a linguistic variable (e.g. the different basic word orders) have a non-uniform distribution across the world’s languages, thereby suggestive of some non-equivalence among them. Various cognitive principles that apply during language acquisition or use are proposed as explanations for the prevalence of some variants over others, some of which have been observed in artificial language learning experiments. In this talk I investigate whether typological distributions and the course of language change in populations of speakers can be explained entirely in terms of biases in language learning that apply universally to all speakers in all speech communities, or whether some additional culture-specific factors are needed. I will suggest that evidence from grammaticalisation cycles of definite and indefinite articles point towards the latter conclusion: in particular, models that exclude culture-specific factors (combined with uncertainty in the strength of universal biases) predict a strong effect of speech community size on the dynamics of language change which is not apparently a feature of the empirical data for articles. On the other hand, models where learning biases work in concert with culture-specific biases seem to avoid this effect.