As readers of this blog will know, in evolutionary linguistics we use artificial languages in communication games all the time to investigate language evolution. However, these games, for the most part, remain very simple and confined to the lab. Massive multiplayer online role play games (MMORPGs) may provide a new avenue for hypothesis testing in language evolution.
Below is just a case study of an MMORPG, so people can get an idea of what we might be able to explore with a MMORPG set up. Though, this game was launched back in 2005, and was not designed as an experiment, so while there’s obviously experimental design issues, there’s still some pretty interesting things that have come out of it.
Urban Dead is a zombie apocalypse MMORPG by Kevan Davis. You can either be a “survivor”, with your main aim being to kill zombies and to stay alive, or a “zombie”, who try to kill survivors and eat their brains. When a survivor is killed, they become a zombie. Zombies can also come back to life. So nearly everyone ends up being a zombie and a survivor at some point. When alive, players can interact as normal with other players in the same location, using a text field. However, when a player becomes a zombie their ability to use language is restricted. The game manipulates the input text for zombies using a set of rules which include, but are not limited to:
- all occurrences of e, i, o, u replaced with “r”
- all characters other than “zhrgbmna .!?-” are deleted
- lower-case “r” at the end of words replaced with “rh”
- an “a” by itself will be replaced with “hra”
This constrained speech is called “death rattle”. As a result of these restrictions, several coded languages have emerged (e.g. Zombish and Zomese), which simply replace banned characters with combinations of allowed characters.
However, another language (Zamgrh) has also emerged, which uses a phonemic orthography. Zamgrh was originally bootstrapped by knowledge of English, but has since developed its own syntax, simple morphology and phonological rules. Some of these are similar to patterns found in pidgin languages, for example the use of “nah” before a verb as negation (1), and pronouns show no case, e.g. “ma zambah” can be used for “I” or “me” (1).
(1) Mah zambah nah harm brazzarz. I do not hurt friends.
The lexicon of Zamgrh remains limited because of the constrained phonemic/orthographic limitations. Players are much more likely to use an existing word and allow context to dictate its meaning, e.g. using “babah” (baby) to mean “little”, “son”, “prince”, etc., which of course is facilitated by the context of the game being so small. Previously, small language populations have been hypothesised to use more context dependent language, because in tightly knit communities people have a lot of shared knowledge (see Wray & Grace, 2007). Zamgrh may help us shed light on whether context dependence is not only the result of shared knowledge, but also the result of smaller phoneme inventories allowing for less productivity in the language (interesting to think about in light of the correlations found by Hay & Bauer (2007) that small language populations have smaller phonemic inventories). There are many incidences in Zamgrh of established lexical items being adopted over new lexical inventions, even with knowledge of English facilitating new items being bootstrapped, almost certainly because of the constrained phonemic inventory. For example “barn” is used for any building, e.g. “Baghzbarn”, which refers to a warehouse, literally, “box barn” and “Agzbarn”, which refers to a fire station, literally, “axe barn”.
Death rattle may also have implications relevant to the size of inventories possible in different linguistic modalities, and how this might effect language evolution.
There currently exists a Zamgrh dictionary, as well as corpora containing some naturalistic zombie discourse and a small number of translated texts, including the poetry of Robert Burns (Rabar Barnz), Beowulf and some more contemporary texts, such as Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up” (Nabar Ganna Brang Gaa H!gh) and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Bahaman Rhabzag).
I have emailed the creator of the game, Kevan Davis, to see about the potential existence of a corpus of interactions as the language was developing, but this data is not available. Though, the data would be problematic anyway, as the the language seems to have developed quite a lot off-game by linguistics nerds, which is obviously not analogous to pidginisation at all. Also, the coded languages emerged much more quickly and more often than more pidgin-like languages, so any studies looking at using a similar paradigm would need to find ways to avoid this happening.
However, I think the game shows that with a bit more consideration for data collection and methodological problems, simple online games may become a useful tool for investigating mechanisms of pidginisation, linguistic bootstrapping, and conventionalisation.
I’ll be presenting some more thoughts on Zamgrh andMMORPGs at the Createvolang worksop at this year’s EvoLang.
Data and examples from the Urban Dead Wiki, a list of contributors to the Zamgrh Project can be found here: http://wiki.urbandead.com/index.php/Category:Zombese_Linguists
Special Issue on the Emergence of Phonetics and Phonology Call For Papers: Special issue of the Journal of Language Evolution
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in research in the evolution of language and speech. This special issue will focus on recent work addressing the evolution of speech apparatus, and the emergence of phonetic and phonological structure. The focus will be on the interaction between biological and cultural evolution, and the interaction between the cognitive evolution of language, and the biological evolution of speech. We are interested in submissions that consider how the physical aspects of a linguistic modality might shape our language, and how our phonetic capabilities at the speech level may influence our phonology at the language level.
The primary goal of the special issue is to exchange the latest advances in the study of the evolution of speech. We are interested in computational and mathematical modeling, experimental studies, brain and vocal tract imaging, corpus analysis and comparative data from animal studies, especially nonhuman primates. These techniques have allowed us to address questions relevant to the evolution of our phonetic capabilities, and the special issue will aim to open an interdisciplinary discourse.
Submissions must provide relevant empirical insight within the remit of this special issue.
Authors should prepare their manuscript according to the Instructions for Authors available from the online submission page of the Journal of Language Evolution at http://jole.oxfordjournals.org/for_authors/index.html. All the papers will be peer-reviewed.
Submission deadline: 17th April 2016
Guest Editor: Hannah Little (email@example.com)
Call for papers for the Second Conference of the
International Association for Cognitive Semiotics (IACS 2016)
June 20-22, 2016
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland
Plenary speakers confirmed up to now:
- Eva Jablonka, Tel Aviv University,
- Simon Kirby, Edinburgh University,
- Esther Pascual, Zhejiang University,
- Frederik Stjernfelt, University of Copenhagen,
Cognitive Semiotics as a field of study deals with questions concerning the nature of meaning as well as the role of consciousness, the unique cognitive features of human beings, the interaction of nature and nurture in development, and the interplay of biological and cultural evolution in phylogeny. To answer these questions CS integrates methods and theories developed in the human and social sciences as well as cognitive sciences. TheInternational Association for Cognitive Semiotics (IACS, founded 2013) aims at the establishment of Cognitive Semiotics as the trans-disciplinary study of meaning. More information on the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics can be found at:http://iacs.dk
One of the goals of the IACS conference series is to gather together scholars and scientists in semiotics, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, psychology and related fields, who wish to share their research on meaning and contribute the interdisciplinary dialogue
Topics of the conference include (but are not limited to):
- Biological and cultural evolution of human cognitive specificity
- Cognitive linguistics and phenomenology
- Communication across cultural barriers
- Cross-species comparative semiotics
- Evolutionary perspectives on altruism
- Experimental semiotics
- Iconicity in language and other semiotic resources
- Intersubjectivity and mimesis in evolution and development
- Narrativity across different media
- Semantic typology and linguistic relativity
- Semiosis (sense-making) in social interaction
- Semiotic and cognitive development in children
- Sign use and cognition
- Signs, affordances, and other meanings
- Speech and gesture
- The comparative semiotics of iconicity and indexicality
- The evolution of language
We invite abstract submissions for theme sessions, oral presentations and posters (please clearly indicate your chosen format with your submission)
Submission guidelines and formats:
1. Theme sessions (deadline: 30 Nov 2015)
– submission should include: session title, name and affiliation of symposium convener, an introduction of up to 400 words explaining the theme, all symposium abstracts, in suitable order
– sessions may consist of of 3-5 papers (90-150 min.), allowing time for general discussion. Papers in each theme session should be thematically linked
*)Theme session proposers should indicate whether, if a session is not accepted as a whole, they wish the individual abstracts to be considered as individual presentations (oral or poster)
2. Oral presentations (deadline: 10 Jan 2016)
submission should include: title, name, affiliation, 400 word abstract
20 min presentation followed by 7 min. discussion
3. Posters (deadline: 10 Jan 2016)
submission should include: title, name, affiliation, 100 word abstract
1 minute oral presentation in the main lecture hall, preceding the poster session
Abstracts should be submitted as .odt, .doc or .docx attachments using EasyChair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=iacs2016. In order to submit an abstract you have to use your existing EasyChair account or register using the link above. Detailed instructions can be found on the IACS 2016 conference website: http://iacs2016.umcs.lublin.pl/?page_id=1528
In the case of questions or doubts do not hesitate to contact the Organizers: iacs2016[at]bacon.umcs.lublin.pl
- Deadline for submission of theme sessions: 30 Nov 2015
- Deadline for abstract submission (oral presentations, posters): 10 Jan 2016
- Notification of acceptance (oral presentations, posters): 29 Feb 2016
- Last date for early registration: 15 Apr 2016
This year, as part of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, I hosted a satellite event about the evolution of speech.
Here’s the preamble:
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in research in the evolution of language and speech. New techniques in computational and mathematical modelling, experimental paradigms, brain and vocal tract imaging, corpus analysis and animal studies, as well as new archeological evidence, have allowed us to address questions relevant to the evolution of our phonetic capabilities. The workshop will focus on recent work addressing the emergence of our phonetic capabilities, with a special focus on the interaction between biological and cultural evolution.
And here’s the meeting, in video form, should anyone have regretted missing it, or wanted to watch the talks again!
Here’s the play order:
- John H. Esling, Allison Benner & Scott R. Moisik – Laryngeal Articulatory Function and Speech Origins
2. Scott R. Moisik & Dan Dediu – Anatomical biasing and clicks: Preliminary biomechanical modeling
3. Seán G. Roberts, Caleb Everett & Damián Blasi – Exploring potential climate effects on the evolution of human sound systems
4. Padraic Monaghan & Willem H. Zuidema – General purpose cognitive processing constraints and phonotactic properties of the vocabulary
5. Bodo Winter & Andy Wedel – Simulating the interaction of functional pressure, redundancy and category variation in phonetic systems
6. Bill Thompson – Universality in Cultural Transmission
Submissions are now open for the Journal of Language Evolution, a new peer-reviewed journal from Oxford University Press.
Launching in 2016 the journal aims to be the venue of choice for new research within the field of language evolution. The journal will be highly interdisciplinary and cover theoretical, computational, database-driven, and experimental work emerging from disciplines including, but not limited to:
- (Neuro-)cognitive sciences
- Evolutionary theory
- Computer sciences
Journal of Language Evolution is aiming for a fast review and decision process, in general aiming at 4-6 weeks for most submission types, but up to 12 weeks for complex reviews, target articles and debates.
All articles in the journal will be freely available online for the first two years and will benefit from a wide range of promotion and publicity to the language evolution community. The launch of JoLE will be an important event for the language evolution field and therefore provides an opportunity for high-visibility publication for anyone working in the field.
JoLE is part of Oxford Open.
The journal invites submissions for the following article types:
- Research articles (3,000-8,000 words)
These should be strongly empirical articles focussed on results, including solid negatives and failed replications.
- Introductions and How-tos (maximum 5,000 words)
These articles should be for non-specialist audiences introducing fundamental concepts and theories (Introductions) or procedures (How-tos) from the different disciplines that make up language evolution research. Proposals for this type of article should be sent to the editors first.
- Short reports (maximum 3,000 words)
Short reports should be tightly focused with a clear account of the data, methods, and results. These reports will receive very fast review and decision.
- Target articles and Debates (8,000-10,000 words)
These should be longer articles on major topics accompanied by short comments from peers and the authors’ response, or a dialogue between authors with opposing points of view. Proposals for this type of article should be sent to the editors first.
- Reviews (3,000-8,000 words)
These should be comprehensive, up-to-date and impartial reviews of a topic of major interest or novelty for a general academic audience.
- Methodology (maximum 5,000 words)
Methodology articles should introduce and describe novel research methods.
There is a new society for the study of cultural evolution, who are currently recruiting a base of founding members. People interested in language evolution are encouraged to join here: https://evolution-institute.org/project/society-for-the-study-of-cultural-evolution/
They encourage the following people to become founding members:
- Academic professionals, graduate students, and undergraduate students from any discipline relevant to cultural evolution. They especially encourage the next generation of scientists to become involved.
- Anyone (professional or nonprofessional) who is trying to accomplish positive cultural change in the real world and who would like to base their efforts on cultural evolutionary theory.
- Anyone (professional or nonprofessional) with an intellectual interest in cultural evolutionary theory who would like to get involved and support the newly emerging field.
- They are especially eager for our members to come from all cultures around the world—an appropriate ideal for a Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution!
At this year’s International Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Glasgow, there is a special interest satellite meeting on the evolution of phonetic capabilities. I posted a list about the program here:
This is just an update to let people know that:
A) The proceedings booklet is now available online here:
B) The deadline for registration to the meeting is 24th June.
Registration is £10, and can be completed through the ICPhS registration page under “Registration only with no accommodation”.
If you would like to register only for this meeting, without registering for the main ICPhS conference, you can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
More info can be found here: https://ai.vub.ac.be/ICPhS
For any other queries, contact email@example.com
BBC radio 4 have a new radio programme about songbirds and human language including contributions from Simon Fisher, Katie Slocombe and Johan Bolhuis, among others.
You can listen here:
And here’s the synopsis:
Could birdsong tell us something about the evolution of human language? Language is arguably the single thing that most defines what it is to be human and unique as a species. But its origins – and its apparent sudden emergence around a hundred thousand years ago – remains mysterious and perplexing to researchers. But could something called vocal learning provide a vital clue as to how language might have evolved? The ability to learn and imitate sounds – vocal learning – is something that humans share with only a few other species, most notably, songbirds. Charles Darwin noticed this similarity as far back as 1871 in the Descent of Man and in the last couple of decades, research has uncovered a whole host of similarities in the way humans and songbirds perceive and process speech and song. But just how useful are animal models of vocal communication in understanding how human language might have evolved? Why is it that there seem to be parallels with songbirds but little evidence that our closest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, share at least some of our linguistic abilities?
Call For Participation
Computational Construction Grammar and Constructional Change
Annual Conference of the Linguistic Society of Belgium
8 June 2015, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
After several decades in scientific purgatory, language evolution has reclaimed its place as one of the most important branches in linguistics, and it is increasingly recognised as one of the most crucial sources of evidence for understanding human cognition. This renewed interest is accompanied by exciting breakthroughs in the science of language. Historical linguists can now couple their expertise to powerful methods for retrieving and documenting which changes have taken place. At the same time, construction grammar is increasingly being embraced in all areas of linguistics as a fruitful way of making sense of all these empirical observations. Construction grammar has also enthused formal and computational linguists, who have developed sophisticated tools for exploring issues in language processing and learning, and how new forms of grammar may emerge in speech populations.
Separately, linguists and computational linguists can therefore explain which changes take place in language and how these changes are possible. When working together, however, they can also address the question of why language evolves over time and how it emerged in the first place. This year, the BKL-CBL conference therefore brings together top researchers from both fields to put evidence and methods from both perspectives on the table, and to take up the challenge of uniting these efforts.
The conference contains presentations by 5 different keynote speakers.
* Graeme Trousdale (University of Edinburgh)
* Luc Steels (VUB/ IBE Barcelona)
* Kristin Davidse (University of Leuven)
* Peter Petré (University of Lille)
* Arie Verhagen (University of Leiden)
We still accept 500-word abstracts for poster presentations. All presentations must represent original, unpublished work not currently under review elsewhere. Work presented at the conference can be selected as a contribution for a special issue of the Belgian Journal of Linguistics (Summer 2016).
* Abstract Submission: 29 May 2015
* Notification of acceptance: 1 June 2015
* Conference: 8 June 2015
Introductory tutorial on Fluid Construction Grammar
Learn how to write your own operational grammars in Fluid Construction Grammar in our tutorial on 7 and 9 June. The tutorial is practically oriented and mainly consists of hands-on exercises. Participation is free but registration is required.
* Katrien Beuls, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
* Remi van Trijp, Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Paris, France