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Auteur: Peeter TINITS

Bias for Language Simplicity in Composite Populations?

Abstract/Résumé: Research into linguistic complexity has recently developed hypotheses that relate historical cases of simplification or complexification with particular sociolinguistic circumstances. For example morphological simplification in a language has been connected with a strong presence of non-native speakers in the speech community (Trudgill, 1998; Kusters, 2003; Dahl, 2004). The data that is preserved from remote times however remains often inconclusive as to the precise social structures present then or the exact mechanisms through which these changes were brought about. Experimental trials have addressed such gaps in the data by investigating behavioural biases of modern people on language use and learning (e.g. Kirby, Cornish & Smith, 2008). Combining miniature artificial language learning with experimental semiotics (Galantucci & Garrod, 2011), a study was constructed to assess the effects of linguistic complexity in communicative interactions. Particularly, whether a simpler variety would portray a preferred solution for collaborative situations of language contact. To test this, composite groups of three participants were formed, with two subjects being taught a majority variety and one of them an almost identical minority variety which, depending on the condition, was either equally complex (C) (equally suppletive) or much simpler (S) (lacking suppletion) in form. After comprehensive training, the groups played a semiotic matching game using spoken word, where the choice of expression was monitored. The results of the completed pilot study contrasting three groups (n = 18), demonstrate indeed a significant preference for the S-minority to maintain their variety, while the C-minority quickly accommodated to the majority. Interestingly, groups with an S-minority were also consistently slower in establishing successful communication, suggesting an explanation for this bias by something other than efficiency. Complexities of the issue will be shown, and possible future extensions discussed. References Galantucci, B., & Garrod, S. (2011). Experimental semiotics: a review. Frontiers in human neuroscience 5, 11 Dahl, Ö. (2004). The growth and maintenance of linguistic complexity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Kirby, S., Cornish, H., & Smith, K. (2008). Cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory: an experimental approach to the origins of structure in human language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105(31): 10681–6 Kusters, W. (2003). Linguistic Complexity: the Influence of Social Change on Verbal Inflection (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Leiden, Leiden Trudgill, P. (1998). Typology and sociolinguistics: linguistic structure, social structure and explanatory comparative dialectology. Folia Linguistica 31: 349–60