[PS-3.62] Simulating vocabulary change through the cultural transmission of language

Brand, J. & Monaghan, P.

Lancaster University

The forms used to represent different meanings in vocabulary are susceptible to change. Whilst it is known that the rate at which forms undergo change can vary dramatically, researchers are only recently beginning to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that drive this striking variation. Here, we implement psycholinguistic properties of natural language, such as word frequency, length, and age of acquisition, within an artificial language to explore their role in vocabulary change. Using an iterated learning paradigm, we simulated the process of cultural transmission over several generations of learners in the laboratory, allowing us to observe how the forms of a word may change, when passed from one generation of learners to another. Our analyses also enable us to distinguish adjustments of word forms from complete replacements of forms across generations, with results indicating that replacement occurs more often when frequency is low and length is long, and adjustments are more likely for high frequency, short words, whilst the age of acquisition effect is more subtle. Our findings place particular emphasis on the important role that the process of learning has on the way that our vocabulary changes and evolves.