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Language, Altruism and Docility: How Cultural Learning Can Favour Language Evolution

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5 Author(s)

Human language serves a number of different functions, one of the most prominent being communicating about relevant features of the environment. From the point of view of the speaker, if the communicated information is advantageous for the hearer but not for the speaker, this is an altruistic use of language, and, as such, it requires an explanation of its evolution. Simon 1990 proposed an explanation of altruism in humans based on the genetically inherited ‘docility’ of our species. In this paper we present artificial life simulations that apply Simon's ideas to the problem of the emergence of the altruistic use of language described above. From the point of view of evolutionary theory, the present work represents the first attempt to test Simon's ‘docility’ theory of altruism with agent-based computer simulations. From the point of view of language evolution, our simulations give an original explanation of (the altruistic aspect of) human language based on one of its most peculiar characteristic, namely, the fact that it is culturally transmitted.