Mechanisms of Cultural Transmission and Language Learning

Kenny Smith & Catriona Silvey

In: Encyclopedia of Language Development

Mechanisms of Cultural Transmission and Language Learning

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  • Language learning is a challenging task but one humans always succeed at. One possible explanation for this universal success is the existence of innate cognitive constraints specific to language learning. However, attending to language's status as a dynamic, culturally transmitted system opens up an alternative perspective. In order to persist, a language must be learnable from limited input by new generations of speakers. This repeated cycle of learning from the productions of previous learners puts pressure on the language to adapt to the biases of those learners. Experimental work in this area has shown that some of the universal features of language can emerge from this process of cultural transmission because these features make language more learnable. This suggests that language acquisition is possible because ...

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