Evaluating the role of quantitative modeling in language evolution

Martins, M., Raju, A., & Ravignani, A. (2014). Evaluating the role of quantitative modeling in language evolution. In L. McCrohon, B. Thompson, T. Verhoef, & H. Yamauchi (Eds.), The Past, Present and Future of Language Evolution Research: Student volume of the 9th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (pp. 84-93). Tokyo: EvoLang9 Organising Committee.
Models are a flourishing and indispensable area of research in language evolution. Here we highlight critical issues in using and interpreting models, and suggest viable approaches. First, contrasting models can explain the same data and similar modelling techniques can lead to diverging conclusions. This should act as a reminder to use the extreme malleability of modelling parsimoniously when interpreting results. Second, quantitative techniques similar to those used in modelling language evolution have proven themselves inadequate in other disciplines. Cross-disciplinary fertilization is crucial to avoid mistakes which have previously occurred in other areas. Finally, experimental validation is necessary both to sharpen models' hypotheses, and to support their conclusions. Our belief is that models should be interpreted as quantitative demonstrations of logical possibilities, rather than as direct sources of evidence. Only an integration of theoretical principles, quantitative proofs and empirical validation can allow research in the evolution of language to progress.
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