Mind & Society

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 65–76 | Cite as

Language learning, power laws, and sexual selection

Original Article


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 



I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, and Paula Buttery and Anna Korhonen for analysis and plots of data from the Valex lexicon.


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Copyright information

© Fondazione Rosselli 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Computer LaboratoryUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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