A cultural evolutionary model of patterns in semantic change

Frank Landsbergen, Robert Lachlan, Carel ten Cate, Arie Verhagen
2010 Linguistics  
Linguistics 48-2 (2010) Frank Landsbergen, Robert Lachlan, Carel ten Cate, and Arie Verhagen: A cultural evolutionary model of patterns in semantic change (pp. 363−390) Only the first two named authors were the equal and principal contributors to the conception and implementation of the reported work and the writing of the manuscript and not all authors as previously indicated in Note 1. Abstract Language change has been described as an unintended e¤ect of language in use (Keller 1994) . In
more » ... ller 1994) . In this view, change results from the way individuals use their language; the challenge is thus to explain change and its properties in terms of factors operating on the individual level, and population dynamics. An intriguing example of such a phenomenon is the finding that language change shows some highly regular tendencies. This has recently received considerable attention in the literature (Bybee et al. 1994; Heine and Kuteva 2002; Traugott and Dasher 2002; Hopper and Traugott 2003) . In unrelated languages, similar words often change in similar ways, along similar "trajectories" of development. This phenomenon is called "unidirectionality", and it is an important part of processes of grammaticalization, items changing from a lexical meaning to a grammatical function. It has been claimed that around 90-99% of all processes of grammaticalization are unidirectional (Haspelmath 1999) . This article explores several mechanisms that may lead to language change, and examines whether they may be responsible for unidirectionality. We use a cultural evolutionary computational model with which the effects of individual behavior on the group level can be measured. By using this approach, regularities in semantic change can be explained in terms of very basic mechanisms and aspects of language use such as the frequency with which particular linguistic items are used. One example is that frequency di¤erences by themselves are a strong enough force for causing unidirectionality. We argue that adopting a cultural evolutionary approach may be useful in the study of language change.
doi:10.1515/ling.2010.012 fatcat:qygpdycljnh7bcfnkjw2qt3bqi