Abstract Christine Cuskley 27 November 2019

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Title: The emergence and dynamics of linguistic rules: Learning, memory, and communicative interaction

Abstract: Rules form the core of human languages, allowing us to communicate a vast array of complex meanings with high cognitive efficiency: one rule can apply to many words or utterances. This talk will look at rules from the perspective of both individual learners and as collective conventions shared across a population, shedding light on how linguistic rules emerge, stabilise, and break down. From the individual perspective, experimental work has shown that different kinds of learners (e.g., L1 vs L2 speakers) generalise rules differently (Cuskley et al., 2015), in ways that may have broad consequences for linguistic structure and change. At the population level, agent-based modelling focused on communicative interaction shows that these individual biases interact meaningfully with population level properties (e.g., turnover, growth, population structure) to give rise to different profiles of linguistic structure. These results show that integrating traditional experimental approaches with agent-based modelling can shed new light on how shared cognitive biases can give rise to diverse social systems and structures.

Bio: Dr Cuskley (ccuskley.github.io) has a background in Psychology and Linguistics and is broadly interested in the evolution of social systems and cognition, with a particular focus on language. She has collaborated with linguists, psychologists, and complex systems scientists to study issues surrounding the emergence, evolution, and dynamics of human language. Dr Cuskley is currently lecturer in Language and Cognition at Newcastle University, working in the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistcs and the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution. She is also an associate researcher in the Centre for Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh.