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Elsevier, Cognition, 2(113), p. 226-233

DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.08.009

The Evolution of Language

DOI: 10.1142/9789812776129_0099



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Signalling Signalhood and the Emergence of Communication

Journal article published in 2008 by Thomas C. Scott Phillips, Simon Kirby, Graham R. S. Ritchie ORCID
This paper is available in a repository.
This paper is available in a repository.

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A unique hallmark of human language is that it uses signals that are both learnt and symbolic. The emergence of such signals was therefore a defining event in human cognitive evolution, yet very little is known about how such a process occurs. Previous work provides some insights on how meaning can become attached to form, but a more foundational issue is presently unaddressed. How does a signal signal its own signalhood? That is, how do humans even know that communicative behaviour is indeed communicative in nature? We introduce an experimental game that has been designed to tackle this problem. We find that it is commonly resolved with a bootstrapping process, and that this process influences the final form of the communication system. Furthermore, sufficient common ground is observed to be integral to the recognition of signalhood, and the emergence of dialogue is observed to be the key step in the development of a system that can be employed to achieve shared goals.