Language learners restructure their input to facilitate efficient communication

Maryia Fedzechkina, T. Florian Jaeger, Elissa L. Newport

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Languages of the 9world display many structural similarities. We test the hypothesis that some of these structural properties may arise from biases operating during language acquisition that shape languages over time. Specifically, we investigate whether language learners are biased toward linguistic systems that strike an efficient balance between robust information transfer, on the one hand, and effort or resource demands, on the other hand, thereby increasing the communicative utility of the acquired language. In two experiments, we expose learners to miniature artificial languages designed in such a way that they do not use their formal devices (case marking) efficiently to facilitate robust information transfer. We find that learners restructure such languages in ways that facilitate efficient information transfer compared with the input language. These systematic changes introduced by the learners follow typologically frequent patterns, supporting the hypothesis that some of the structural similarities found in natural languages are shaped by biases toward communicatively efficient linguistic systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17897-17902
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 30 2012


  • Communicative pressures
  • Efficient information transmission
  • Language universals
  • Learning biases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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