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Journal Article

Social network size can influence linguistic malleability and the propagation of linguistic change


Lev-Ari,  Shiri
Royal Holloway University ;
Psychology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Lev-Ari (2018) Cognition.pdf
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Lev-Ari, S. (2018). Social network size can influence linguistic malleability and the propagation of linguistic change. Cognition, 176, 31-39. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.03.003.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0000-B6F6-D
We learn language from our social environment, but the more sources we have, the less informative each source is, and therefore, the less weight we ascribe its input. According to this principle, people with larger social networks should give less weight to new incoming information, and should therefore be less susceptible to the influence of new speakers. This paper tests this prediction, and shows that speakers with smaller social networks indeed have more malleable linguistic representations. In particular, they are more likely to adjust their lexical boundary following exposure to a new speaker. Experiment 2 uses computational simulations to test whether this greater malleability could lead people with smaller social networks to be important for the propagation of linguistic change despite the fact that they interact with fewer people. The results indicate that when innovators were connected with people with smaller rather than larger social networks, the population exhibited greater and faster diffusion. Together these experiments show that the properties of people’s social networks can influence individuals’ learning and use as well as linguistic phenomena at the community level.