Monolingual Biases in Simulations of Cultural Transmission

  • Seán RobertsEmail author
Part of the Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality book series (SIPS, volume 3)


Recent research suggests that the evolution of language is affected by the inductive biases of its learners. I suggest that there is an implicit assumption that one of these biases is to expect a single linguistic system in the input. Given the prevalence of bilingual cultures, this may not be a valid abstraction. This is illustrated by demonstrating that the ‘minimal naming game’ model, in which a shared lexicon evolves in a population of agents, includes an implicit mutual exclusivity bias. Since recent research suggests that children raised in bilingual cultures do not exhibit mutual exclusivity, the individual learning algorithm of the agents is not as abstract as it appears to be. A modification of this model demonstrates that communicative success can be achieved without mutual exclusivity. It is concluded that complex cultural phenomena, such as bilingualism, do not necessarily result from complex individual learning mechanisms. Rather, the cultural process itself can bring about this complexity.


Perceptual Category Communicative Success Cultural Transmission Category Boundary Cultural Phenomenon 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thank you to Simon Kirby, Kenny Smith, Antonella Sorace and Liz Irvine for comments. Supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/G010277/1].


  1. Abrams, D.M. and Strogatz, S. H.: Modelling the dynamics of language death. Nature, 424, pp. 900. (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker, C. & Jones, S. P.: Encyclopedia of bilingualism and bilingual education. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. (1998)Google Scholar
  3. Baronchelli, A.: Role of feedback and broadcasting in the naming game. Physical Review E. 83(4), 046103. (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baronchelli, A., Dall’Asta, L., Barrat, A. & Loreto, V.: Bootstrapping communication in language games in A. Cangelosi, A. D. M. Smith & K. Smith, eds.: The Evolution of Language, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference (EVOLANG6), World Scientific Publishing Company. (2006)Google Scholar
  5. Baronchelli, A., Felici, M. Loreto, V., Caglioti, E. &Luc Steels:Sharp transition towards shared vocabularies in multi-agent systems. Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment. P06014. (2006)Google Scholar
  6. Baronchelli, A., Gong, T., Puglisi, A., and Loreto, V.: Modeling the emergence of universality in color naming patterns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(6):2403–2407. (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burkett, D., Griffiths, T.: Iterated learning of multiple languaged from multiple teachers. In Smith, A., Schouwstra, M., de Boer, B., and Smith, K., editors, The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of EvoLang 2010, 58–65. (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Byers-Heinlein, K. & Werker, J. F.: Monolingual, bilingual, trilingual: infants’ language experience influences the development of a word-learning heuristic. Developmental Science, 12(9), 815–823. (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Christiansen, M. H. & Chater, N.: Language as shaped by the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 5, 489–508; discussion 509–58. (2008)Google Scholar
  10. De Beule, J. and De Vylder, B. and Belpaeme, T. A cross-situational learning algorithm for damping homonymy in the guessing game. In L. M. Rocha, L. Yaeger, M. Bedau, D. Floreano, R. Goldstone, and A. Vespignani (eds.) Artificial Life X, 466–472. MIT Press. (2006)Google Scholar
  11. De Vylder, B. & Tuyls, K.: How to reach linguistic consensus: A proof of convergence for the naming game. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 242 (4) 818–831. (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. de Vylder, B. The Evolution of Conventions in Multi-Agent Systems. PhD thesis, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Vrije Universiteit Brussels. (2007)Google Scholar
  13. Euopean Comission. 2006. Special Eurobarometer: Europeans and their Languages: European Commission.
  14. Gong, T., Puglisi, A., Loreto, V., & Wang, W. S-Y.: Conventionalization of linguistic knowledge under simple communicative constraints. Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution, and Cognition, 3 (2) 154–163. (2008)Google Scholar
  15. Griffiths, T. L. & Kalish, M. L.: Language Evolution by Iterated Learning With Bayesian Agents. Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal. 31 (3) 441–480. (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Halberda, J.: The development of a word-learning strategy. Cognition, 87 (1) 23–34. (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Healey, E. & Skarabela, B.: Are children willing to accept two labels for one object? A comparative study of mutual exclusivity in bilingual and monolingual children. In Proceedings of the Child Language Seminar. University of Reading. (2009)Google Scholar
  18. Houston-Price, C., Caloghiris, Z., & Raviglione, E.: Language Experience Shapes the Development of the Mutual Exclusivity Bias. Infancy 15 (2), 125–150. (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hutchins, E., & Hazlehurst, B.: How to invent a lexicon: The development of shared symbols in interaction. In N. Gilbert & R. Conte (eds.) Artificial societies: The computer simulation of social life, pp. 157–189, London: UCL Press. (1995)Google Scholar
  20. Lewontin, R. C.: The Units of Selection. Annual Reviews of Ecology and Systematics 1: 1–18. (1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Loreto, V., Baronchelli, A., and Puglisi, A.: Mathematical Modeling of Language Games, Evolution of Communication and Language in Embodied Agents, part 3, 263–281. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. (2010)Google Scholar
  22. Luchtenberg, S.: Bilingualism and bilingual education and their relationship to citizenship from a comparative German-Australian perspective, Intercultural Education, Vol. 13(1), 49–61. (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kirby, S.: Spontaneous evolution of linguistic structure-an iterated learning model of the emergence of regularity and irregularity. IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation, 5 (2) 102–110. (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kirby, S., Dowman, M. & Griffiths, T.:Innateness and culture in the evolution of language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104:12, 5241–5245. (2007)Google Scholar
  25. Komarova, N. L. & Jameson, K.A. Population heterogeneity and color stimulus heterogeneity in agent-based color categorization.Journal of Theoretical Biology. 253(4): 680–700. (2008)Google Scholar
  26. Kostoulas-Makrakis, N.: Language and Society. Basic Concepts (in Greek). Athens: Metexmio. (2001)Google Scholar
  27. Markman, E. M. and Wachtel, G. A.: Children’s use of mutual exclusivity to constrain the meanings of words. Cognitive Psychology. 20, 121–57. (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Merriman, W. E. and Bowman, L. L.: The mutual exclusivity bias in children’s word learning. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 54 (3–4). (1989)Google Scholar
  29. Niyogi, P. & Berwick, R. C.: The Logical Problem of Language Change. CBCL Paper 115, MIT AI Laboratory and Center for Biological and Computational Learning, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. (1995)Google Scholar
  30. Niyogi, P. and Berwick, R.C.: The proper treatment of language acquisition and change in a population setting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (25) 10124–9. (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nowak, M. A., & Krakauer, D. C.: The evolution of language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United State of America. 96 (14) 8028–8033. (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oliphant, M.: The learning barrier: Moving from innate to learned systems of communication. Adaptive Behavior, 7, 371–384. (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pearson, B.Z., Fernandez, S.C., Oller, D.K.: Lexical development in bilingual infants and toddlers: Comparison to monolingual norms. Language Learning, 43, 93–120. (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Puglisi, A., Baronchelli, A. & Loreto, V.: Cultural route to the emergence of linguistic categories Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 105 7936–7940. (2008)Google Scholar
  35. Smith, K: The cultural evolution of communication in a population of neural networks. Connection Science, 14, 65–84. (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith, K.: The evolution of vocabulary. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 228 (1) 127–142. (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, A. D. M.: Mutual exclusivity: communicative success despite conceptual divergence. In M. Tallerman (ed.) Language Origins: perspectives on evolution. 372–388. Oxford University Press. (2005)Google Scholar
  38. Smith, K.: Iterated learning in populations of Bayesian agents. Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (2009)Google Scholar
  39. Smith, K., Kirby, S. & Brighton, H.: Iterated learning: a framework for the emergence of language. Artificial Life 9 (4) 371–86. (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Statistics Canada: The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 97–555-XIE. Ottawa. Version updated May 2010. (3/11/2010). (2007)
  41. Steels, L.: Perceptually grounded meaning creation in M. Tokoro (Ed.) Proceedings of the International Conference on Multi-agent Systems. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA. (1996)Google Scholar
  42. Steels, L. and Belpaeme, T.: Coordinating perceptually grounded categories through language: a case study for colour. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(4):469–489. (2005)Google Scholar
  43. The “Five Graces Group”: Beckner, C., Blythe, R., Bybee, J., Christiansen, M. H., Croft, W., Ellis, N. C., Holland, J., Ke, J., Larsen-Freeman, D. & Schoenemann, T. Language Is a Complex Adaptive System: Position Paper. Language Learning, 59, 1–26. (2009)Google Scholar
  44. Thomas, L., & Wareing, S.: Language, Society and Power. London: Routledge. (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. U.S. Census Bureau: Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000 (C2KBR-29). Washington: Government Printing Office. (3/11/2010). (2003)
  46. Vogt, P. & Haasdijk, E.:Modeling social learning of language and skills. Artificial Life 16 (4) 289–309. (2010)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Language and Cognition GroupMax Planck Institute for PsycholinguisticsNijmegenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations