Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 127, Issue 3, pp 205–214

A game theoretical approach to the evolution of structured communication codes

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12064-008-0024-1

Cite this article as:
Fontanari, J.F. & Perlovsky, L.I. Theory Biosci. (2008) 127: 205. doi:10.1007/s12064-008-0024-1


Structured meaning-signal mappings, i.e., mappings that preserve neighborhood relationships by associating similar signals with similar meanings, are advantageous in an environment where signals are corrupted by noise and sub-optimal meaning inferences are rewarded as well. The evolution of these mappings, however, cannot be explained within a traditional language evolutionary game scenario in which individuals meet randomly because the evolutionary dynamics is trapped in local maxima that do not reflect the structure of the meaning and signal spaces. Here we use a simple game theoretical model to show analytically that when individuals adopting the same communication code meet more frequently than individuals using different codes—a result of the spatial organization of the population—then advantageous linguistic innovations can spread and take over the population. In addition, we report results of simulations in which an individual can communicate only with its K nearest neighbors and show that the probability that the lineage of a mutant that uses a more efficient communication code becomes fixed decreases exponentially with increasing K. These findings support the mother tongue hypothesis that human language evolved as a communication system used among kin, especially between mothers and offspring.


Evolution of communicationPopulation dynamicsEvolutionary games

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Física de São CarlosUniversidade de São PauloSão CarlosBrazil
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA