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PLoS One. 2015 May 27;10(5):e0125019. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125019. eCollection 2015.

Individual biases, cultural evolution, and the statistical nature of language universals: the case of colour naming systems.

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Department of Mathematics, City University London, London EC1V 0HB, UK.
Dipartimento di Fisica, Sapienza Università di Roma, P.le A. Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy; Institute for Scientific Interchange (ISI), Via Alassio 11/c, 10126, Turin, Italy; SONY Computer Science Lab (SONY-CSL), 5, Rue Amyot, 75005, Paris, France.
CNR-ISC, Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy; Dipartimento di Fisica, Sapienza Università di Roma, P.le A. Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy.


Language universals have long been attributed to an innate Universal Grammar. An alternative explanation states that linguistic universals emerged independently in every language in response to shared cognitive or perceptual biases. A computational model has recently shown how this could be the case, focusing on the paradigmatic example of the universal properties of colour naming patterns, and producing results in quantitative agreement with the experimental data. Here we investigate the role of an individual perceptual bias in the framework of the model. We study how, and to what extent, the structure of the bias influences the corresponding linguistic universal patterns. We show that the cultural history of a group of speakers introduces population-specific constraints that act against the pressure for uniformity arising from the individual bias, and we clarify the interplay between these two forces.

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