Self‐organization and selection in the emergence of vocabulary

Jinyun KE, James W. MINETT, Ching Pong AU, William S.-Y. WANG

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66 Citations (Scopus)


Human language may have started from a consistent set of mappings between meanings and signals. These mappings, referred to as the early vocabulary, are considered to be the results of conventions established among the agents of a population. In this study, we report simulation models for investigating how such conventions can be reached. We propose that convention is essentially the product of self‐organization of the population through interactions among the agents and that cultural selection is another mechanism that speeds up the establishment of convention. Whereas earlier studies emphasize either one or the other of these two mechanisms, our focus is to integrate them into one hybrid model. The combination of these two complementary mechanisms, i.e., self‐organization and cultural selection, provides a plausible explanation for cultural evolution, which progresses with high transmission rate. Furthermore, we observe that as the vocabulary tends to convergence there is a uniform tendency to exhibit a sharp phase transition. Copyright © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-54
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2002


Ke, J., Minett, J. W., Au, C.-P., & Wang, W. S.-Y. (2002). Self‐organization and selection in the emergence of vocabulary. Complexity, 7(3), 41-54. doi: 10.1002/cplx.10030


  • Language evolution
  • Emergence
  • Vocabulary
  • Self-organization
  • Selection


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