A Possible Role for Selective Masking in the Evolution of Complex, Learned Communication Systems

  • Graham R.S. Ritchie
  • Simon Kirby


The human capacity for language is one of our most distinctive characteristics. While communication systems abound in the natural world, human language distinguishes itself in terms of its communicative power, flexibility and complexity. One of the most unusual features of human language, when compared to the communication systems of other species, is the degree to which it involves learning. Just how much of language is innate and how much is learned is an ongoing controversy, but it is undeniable that the specific details of any particular language must be learned anew every generation. We do, of course, bring a great deal of innate resources to bear on our language learning process, and the results these innate biases have on the development of languages may explain a great deal about the structure of the languages we see today. But still every child in every new generation must go through a lengthy process of language acquisition if they are to become normal language users.


Human Language Iterate Learning Minimum Description Length Song Type Bird Song 
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

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham R.S. Ritchie
    • 1
  • Simon Kirby
    • 1
  1. 1.Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit, University of EdinburghUK

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