Journal of Logic, Language and Information

, Volume 25, Issue 3–4, pp 355–377 | Cite as

The Evolution of Compositionality in Signaling Games

  • Michael Franke


Compositionality is a key design feature of human language: the meaning of complex expressions is, for the most part, systematically constructed from the meanings of its parts and their manner of composition. This paper demonstrates that rudimentary forms of compositional communicative behavior can emerge from a variant of reinforcement learning applied to signaling games. This helps explain how compositionality could have emerged gradually: if unsophisticated agents can evolve prevalent dispositions to communicate compositional-like, there is a direct evolutionary benefit for adaptations that exploit the systematicity in form-meaning mappings more rigorously.


Signaling games Reinforcement learning Compositionality 



The development of this material has benefited from comments of and discussions with many colleagues: Jeffrey Barrett, Sven Banisch, Sanne Brinkhorst, Rüdiger Gleim, Simon Kirby, Harvey Lederman, Robert van Rooij, Shawn Simpson, Shane Steinert-Threlkeld, Peter Vogt, and Elliott Wagner. I would also like to thank three anonymous referees for insightful comments and suggestions, as well as the editors of this special issue for their efforts. Financial support by NWO-VENI Grant 275-80-004 and the Institutional Strategy of the University of Tübingen (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, ZUK 63) is gratefully acknowledged.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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