Evolutionary consequences of language learning

Linguistics and Philosophy 20 (6):697-719 (1997)
Abstract
Linguists intuitions about language change can be captured by adynamical systems model derived from the dynamics of language acquisition.Rather than having to posit a separate model for diachronic change, as hassometimes been done by drawing on assumptions from population biology (cf.Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, 1973; 1981; Kroch, 1990), this new modeldispenses with these independent assumptions by showing how the behavior ofindividual language learners leads to emergent, global populationcharacteristics of linguistic communities over several generations. As thesimplest case, we formalize the example of two grammars and show that eventhis situation leads directly to a nonlinear (quadratic) dynamical system.We study this one parameter model in a variety of situations for differentkinds of acquisition algorithms and maturational times, showing howdifferent learning theories can have very different evolutionaryconsequences. This allows us to formulate an evolutionary criterion for theadequacy of grammatical and learning theories. An application of thecomputational model to the historical loss of Verb Second from Old French toModern French is described showing how otherwise adequate grammaticaltheories might fail the evolutionary criterion.
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