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An experimental study of social selection and frequency of interaction in linguistic diversity

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Computational simulations have provided evidence that the use of linguistic cues as group markers plays an important role in the development of linguistic diversity (Nettle & Dunbar, 1997; Nettle, 1999). Other simulations, however, have contradicted these findings (Livingstone & Fyfe, 1999; Livingstone, 2002). Similar disagreements exist in sociolinguistics (e.g. Labov, 1963, 2001; Trudgill, 2004, 2008a; Baxter et al., 2009). This paper describes an experimental study in which participants played an anonymous economic game using an instant-messenger-style program and an artificial 'alien language'. The competitiveness of the game and the frequency with which players interacted were manipulated. Given frequent enough interaction with team-mates, players were able to use linguistic cues to identify themselves. In the most competitive condition, this led to divergence in the language, which did not occur in other conditions. This suggests that both frequency of interaction and a pressure to use language to mark identity play a significant role in encouraging linguistic divergence over short periods, but that neither is sufficient on its own.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-03-01

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