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Cultural route to the emergence of linguistic categories

Puglisi, A., Baronchelli, A. & Loreto, V. (2008). Cultural route to the emergence of linguistic categories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 105(23), pp. 7936-7940. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0802485105


Categories provide a coarse-grained description of the world. A fundamental question is whether categories simply mirror an underlying structure of nature or instead come from the complex interactions of human beings among themselves and with the environment. Here, we address this question by modeling a population of individuals who co-evolve their own system of symbols and meanings by playing elementary language games. The central result is the emergence of a hierarchical category structure made of two distinct levels: a basic layer, responsible for fine discrimination of the environment, and a shared linguistic layer that groups together perceptions to guarantee communicative success. Remarkably, the number of linguistic categories turns out to be finite and small, as observed in natural languages.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
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