Biological Theory

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 174–183 | Cite as

Language and the Free-Rider Problem: An Experimental Paradigm

Article

Abstract

Change and variation, while inherent to language, might be seen as running counter to human communicative needs. However, variation also gives language the power to convey reliable indexical information about the speaker. This has been argued to play a significant role in allowing the establishment of large communities based on cooperative exchange (M. Enquist and O. Leimar 1993, The evolution of cooperation in mobile organisms. Animal Behaviour 45: 747–757; R. I. M. Dunbar 1996, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. London: Faber and Faber), although there has been little experimental investigation of the hypothesis. Here I present a preliminary study intended to help fill this gap. Participants played an online team game in which they negotiated anonymously for resources using an artificial language. Players succeeded in using linguistic cues to distinguish between their teammates and their opponents, and displayed between-team variation in the use of the language.

Keywords

cultural evolution experimental free-rider problem historical linguistics language change language evolution sociolinguistics 

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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Language Evolution and Computation Research UnitUniversity of EdinburghScotland

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