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Adaptive communication: languages with more non-native speakers tend to have fewer word forms

Bentz, C., Verkerk, A., Kiela, D., Hill, F. and Buttery, P. (2015) Adaptive communication: languages with more non-native speakers tend to have fewer word forms. PLoS ONE, 10 (6). e0128254. ISSN 1932-6203

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128254

Abstract/Summary

Explaining the diversity of languages across the world is one of the central aims of typological, historical, and evolutionary linguistics. We consider the effect of language contact-the number of non-native speakers a language has-on the way languages change and evolve. By analysing hundreds of languages within and across language families, regions, and text types, we show that languages with greater levels of contact typically employ fewer word forms to encode the same information content (a property we refer to as lexical diversity). Based on three types of statistical analyses, we demonstrate that this variance can in part be explained by the impact of non-native speakers on information encoding strategies. Finally, we argue that languages are information encoding systems shaped by the varying needs of their speakers. Language evolution and change should be modeled as the co-evolution of multiple intertwined adaptive systems: On one hand, the structure of human societies and human learning capabilities, and on the other, the structure of language.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:41031
Publisher:Public Library of Science

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