Cognitive Science 31 (3):441-480 (2007)

Authors
Tom Griffiths
Aarhus University
Abstract
Languages are transmitted from person to person and generation to generation via a process of iterated learning: people learn a language from other people who once learned that language themselves. We analyze the consequences of iterated learning for learning algorithms based on the principles of Bayesian inference, assuming that learners compute a posterior distribution over languages by combining a prior (representing their inductive biases) with the evidence provided by linguistic data. We show that when learners sample languages from this posterior distribution, iterated learning converges to a distribution over languages that is determined entirely by the prior. Under these conditions, iterated learning is a form of Gibbs sampling, a widely-used Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm. The consequences of iterated learning are more complicated when learners choose the language with maximum posterior probability, being affected by both the prior of the learners and the amount of information transmitted between generations. We show that in this case, iterated learning corresponds to another statistical inference algorithm, a variant of the expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm. These results clarify the role of iterated learning in explanations of linguistic universals and provide a formal connection between constraints on language acquisition and the languages that come to be spoken, suggesting that information transmitted via iterated learning will ultimately come to mirror the minds of the learners
Keywords Language evolution  Bayesian models  Cultural transmission  Iterated learning
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DOI 10.1080/15326900701326576
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References found in this work BETA

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 17 (2):278-279.
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Ann S. Ferebee - 1965 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 35 (1):167.
Word and Object.Henry W. Johnstone - 1961 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 22 (1):115-116.

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Citations of this work BETA

Language, Thought, and Color: Whorf Was Half Right.Terry Regier & Paul Kay - 2009 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13 (10):439-446.

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