Brochhagen, Thomas, Gemma Boleda, Eleonora Gualdoni, and Yang Xu (2023): From language development to language evolution: A unified view of human lexical creativity. Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.ade7981

Article page

Supplementary material

Code repository


Commentary by S.J. Greenhill

Abstract: A defining property of human language is the creative use of words to express multiple meanings through word meaning extension. Such lexical creativity is manifested at different timescales, ranging from language development in children to the evolution of word meanings over history. We explored whether different manifestations of lexical creativity build on a common foundation. Using computational models, we show that a parsimonious set of semantic knowledge types characterize developmental data as well as evolutionary products of meaning extension spanning over 1400 languages. Models for evolutionary data account very well for developmental data, and vice versa. These findings suggest a unified foundation for human lexical creativity underlying both the fleeting products of individual ontogeny and the evolutionary products of phylogeny across languages.