This study examines the intergenerational transfer of human communication systems. It tests if human communication systems evolve to be easy to learn or easy to use (or both), and how population size affects learnability and usability. Using an experimental-semiotic task, we find that human communication systems evolve to be easier to use (production efficiency and reproduction fidelity), but harder to learn (identification accuracy) for a second generation of naïve participants. Thus, usability trumps learnability. In addition, the communication systems that evolve in larger populations exhibit distinct advantages over those that evolve in smaller populations: the learnability loss (from the Initial signs) is more muted and the usability benefits are more pronounced. The usability benefits for human communication systems that evolve in a small and large population is explained through guided variation reducing sign complexity. The enhanced performance of the communication systems that evolve in larger populations is explained by the operation of a content bias acting on the larger pool of competing signs. The content bias selects for information-efficient iconic signs that aid learnability and enhance usability. © 2013 Fay, Ellison.
|Publication status||Published - 2013|