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The Linguistic Review

Editor-in-Chief: Hulst, Harry

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Exemplar models, evolution and language change

Andrew B Wedel1


Citation Information: The Linguistic Review. Volume 23, Issue 3, Pages 247–274, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: 10.1515/TLR.2006.010, November 2006

Publication History

Published Online:


Evidence supporting a rich memory for associations suggests that people can store perceptual details in the form of exemplars. The resulting particulate model of category contents allows the application of evolution theory in modeling category change, because variation in categorized percepts is reflected in the distribution of exemplars in a category. Within a production-perception feedback loop, variation within an exemplar-based category provides a reserve of variants that can serve as the seeds for shifts in the system over time through random or selection-driven asymmetries in production and perception. Here, three potential pathways for evolutionary change are identified in linguistic categories: pruning of lines of inheritance, blending inheritance and natural selection. Simulations of each of these pathways are shown within a simple exemplar-based model of category production and perception, showing how consideration of evolutionary processes may contribute to our understanding of linguistic category change over time.

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