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Conventionalisation and Discrimination as Competing Pressures on Continuous Speech-like Signals

Little, H., Eryilmaz, K., & de Boer, B. (2017). Conventionalisation and Discrimination as Competing Pressures on Continuous Speech-like Signals. Interaction studies, 18(3), 355-378. doi:10.1075/is.18.3.04lit.
Arbitrary communication systems can emerge from iconic beginnings through processes of conventionalisation via interaction. Here, we explore whether this process of conventionalisation occurs with continuous, auditory signals. We conducted an artificial signalling experiment. Participants either created signals for themselves, or for a partner in a communication game. We found no evidence that the speech-like signals in our experiment became less iconic or simpler through interaction. We hypothesise that the reason for our results is that when it is difficult to be iconic initially because of the constraints of the modality, then iconicity needs to emerge to enable grounding before conventionalisation can occur. Further, pressures for discrimination, caused by the expanding meaning space in our study, may cause more complexity to emerge, again as a result of the restrictive signalling modality. Our findings have possible implications for the processes of conventionalisation possible in signed and spoken languages, as the spoken modality is more restrictive than the manual modality.
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