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Conversation, cognition and cultural evolution: a model of the cultural evolution of word order through pressures imposed from turn taking in conversation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404–431
Number of pages28
JournalInteraction Studies
Issue number3
Early online date8 Dec 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Mar 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Dec 2017
DatePublished (current) - Dec 2017


This paper outlines a first attempt to model the special constraints that arise in language processing in conversation, and to explore the implications such functional considerations may have on language typology and language change. In particular, we focus on processing pressures imposed by conversational turn-taking and their consequences for the cultural evolution of the structural properties of language. We present an agent-based model of cultural evolution where agents take turns at talk in conversation. When the start of planning for the next turn is constrained by the position of the verb, the stable distribution of dominant word orders across languages evolves to match the actual distribution reasonably well. We suggest that the interface of cognition and interaction should be a more central part of the story of language evolution.

Additional information

Issue title: Interaction and Iconicity in the Evolution of Language

    Research areas

  • Turn taking, Pragmatics, Typology, World order, Cultural evolution

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  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via John Benjamins at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 502 KB, PDF document


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