Original Article

Mind & Society

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 65-76

First online:

Language learning, power laws, and sexual selection

  • Ted BriscoeAffiliated withComputer Laboratory, University of Cambridge Email author 

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I discuss the ubiquity of power law distributions in language organisation (and elsewhere), and argue against Miller’s (The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature, William Heinemann, London, 2000) argument that large vocabulary size is a consequence of sexual selection. Instead I argue that power law distributions are evidence that languages are best modelled as dynamical systems but raise some issues for models of iterated language learning.


Zipf curve Iterated learning model Small world distribution Evolutionary linguistics Diathesis alternation