ESEP 2021 Workshop

Workshop on Experimental Semiotics and Evolutionary Pragmatics (ESEP 2021)

Experimental semiotics – the study of "novel forms of communication which people develop when they cannot use pre-established communication" – has recently become arguably the most prolific experimental approach in language evolution research. In this workshop, we aim at evaluating the ways in which experimental-semiotic studies are relevant to the study of (evolutionary) pragmatics. The workshop will be composed of two parts: a "presentation day" (August 26th) with talks by international reserarcher and CLES members, and a "2-day hands-on workshop" with dr R. Mühlenbernd (NAWA Ulam fellow at CLES NCU), who will instruct the participants in preparing online experiments with LabVanced software.

August 26: Presentation Day

Time Speaker Title
10.25 Organizers Welcome
10.30 Christine Cuskley Experiments in language emergence: Forms, meanings, mappings, and beyond
(scroll down to the abstract)
11.15 Marek Placiński Structural alignment and cooperation
(scroll down to the abstract)
11.35 Michael Pleyer, Slawomir Wacewicz What do introductory linguistics textbooks have to say about language evolution?
12.00 Roland Mühlenbernd The evolution of ambiguity in the lab
(scroll down to the abstract)
12.45 Lunch
14.15 Adam Gutowski Vocal iconicity in Experimental Semiotics studies: The potential for iconicity in vocalisations
14.40 Angelo Delliponti Experimental Semiotics and ostensive-inferential communication
15.05 Giulia Sanguedolce Clinical population in Experimental Semiotics
15.30 Renato Raia Experimental Semiotics and competition in language evolution
16.00 Gareth Roberts What do you think you're doing? Questions of framing in Experimental Semiotics

August 27: LabVanced course day I

Lecturer: Roland Mühlenbernd
Material: Former course page

Time Topic Course Ressources
10.30-11.30 A simple survey study Session 1
11.30-12.30 Working with the task editor Session 2
12.30-14.00 Lunch
14.00-15.00 Working with the trial system Session 3
15.00-16.00 Fine tuning and publishing Session 4
16.00-17.00 Excercises 1 and 2: variables and events Session 7

August 28: LabVanced course day II

Lecturer: Roland Mühlenbernd
Material: Former course page

Time Topic Course Ressources
10.00-11.00 Preparing exercise 3 Session 8
11.00-12.30 Exercise 3: Arrays and global variables Session 8
12.30-14.00 Lunch


Experiments in language emergence: Forms, meanings, mappings, and beyond (Christine Cuskley)
In the last 20 years, there has been an increasing move to study the evolution of language using controlled experiments in the lab, particularly using artificial language learning. Generally, these experiments focus on providing random mappings between non-word forms and structured meanings to participants, and examining how *structured* mappings between form and meaning take hold. However, the last few years has seen a more concerted effort to look at language *emergence* in a variety of ways, in particular, examining novel form spaces beyond non-words. This talk will focus on these efforts, honing in on a method using a virtual palette of ‘alien’ visual forms. Results show that the topology of a form space can have strong effects on the cultural transmission of forms – at least when these aren’t yet paired with meanings. I’ll end the talk by suggesting how we can integrate experimental studies in language emergence with work on cross-modal associations, and in particular, how we can leverage browser-based, gamified experiments to further push the boundaries of experimental semiotics.

The evolution of ambiguity in the lab (Roland Mühlenbernd)
We study a basic version of a sender-receiver signaling game - the context signaling game (CSG) - that involves contextual cues which provide indications for the receiver about the sender's provate information state. A formal evolutionary analysis of CSG games shows that ambiguous signaling systems can achieve perfect information transfer and form evolutionarily stable states. Moreover, a computational analysis of the CSG game shows that ambiguous signaling systems have the same basin of attraction (=emergence probablity) than perfect signaling systems (one-to-one mapping between information states and signals) under a range of standard adaptive dynamics. We contrast these results with an experimental study, where pairs of participants play the CSG for multiple rounds with each other in the lab to develop a signaling system. this comparison shows that unlike the virtual agents, human agents clearly prefer perfect signaling systems over ambiguous signaling systems.

Structural alignment and cooperation (Marek Placiński)
This study investigates the relations that hold between cooperation and linguistic alignment. Linguistic alignment, as defined by Pickering and Garrod (2004) can be defined as mimicry in terms of the vocabulary and structures used in conversation. Though Pickering and Garrod posit that alignment is reached as an outcome of an automatic priming mechanism, studies have shown that it is in fact affected by extra-linguistic context, such as status (Lev-Ari & Peperkamp, 2017), pro-social behaviour (van Baaren et al., 2004; Kulesza et al., 2014), or perception of the interlocutor (Schoot et al., 2016; Balcetis & Dale, 2005; Weatherholtz et al., 2014). Alignment in general, and structural alignment specifically, is beyond conscious control (Branigan et al., 2003), rendering it similar to low-level coordinative devices, which Wacewicz et al. (2017) argue to lay at the foundations of non-linguistic cooperation. Similarly to these devices, structural alignment is a reliable (difficult to fake) and therefore a trustworthy signal, which is why it may modulate cooperative behaviours. Therefore, we hypothesise that structural alignment is a predictor of cooperative success. A corpus-based study revealed a positive correlation between alignment and task success.

Sponsoring Institutions