Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 451–484 | Cite as

The evolutionary dynamics of the lexical matrix

  • Natalia L. Komarova
  • Martin A. Nowak


The lexical matrix is an integral part of the human language system. It provides the link between word form and word meaning. A simple lexical matrix is also at the center of any animal communication system, where it defines the associations between form and meaning of animal signals. We study the evolution and population dynamics of the lexical matrix. We assume that children learn the lexical matrix of their parents. This learning process is subject to mistakes: (i) children may not acquire all lexical items of their parents (incomplete learning); and (ii) children might acquire associations between word forms and word meanings that differ from their parents’ lexical items (incorrect learning). We derive an analytic framework that deals with incomplete learning. We calculate the maximum error rate that is compatible with a population maintaining a coherent lexical matrix of a given size. We calculate the equilibrium distribution of the number of lexical items known to individuals. Our analytic investigations are supplemented by numerical simulations that describe both incomplete and incorrect learning, and other extensions.


Payoff Evolutionary Dynamics Word Form Word Meaning Lexical Item 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalia L. Komarova
    • 1
    • 2
  • Martin A. Nowak
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Advanced StudyPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Applied MathematicsUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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