Object structure

Lingua franca features in Italian. Evidence form an evolutionary linguistics experiment


Rogalska-Chodecka, Katarzyna


Instytut Języka Polskiego Polskiej Akademii Nauk

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lingua franca ; English ; Italian ; iterated learning ; evolutionary linguistics


There is no doubt about the lingua franca status of the English language (e.g. Mair 2003). It even manifested itself in an evolutionary linguistics study based on the methodology of iterated learning (cf. Kirby and Hurford 2002). In an experiment with human participants, all of whom were native speakers of Polish, aimed at producing basic yet novel linguistic systems, entrenched linguistic structures related to English could easily be found, despite the fact that the experiment’s participants were asked not to use linguistic units from existing languages (e.g. Rogalska-Chodecka 2015). When the experiment’s participants tried to notice a lexical or syntactic pattern in a set of CVCVCV strings, they referred to English words regardless of their level of language knowledge or the experimenter’s instruction. Consequently, the final product of the experiment was not a novel linguistic system, but one containing entrenched linguistic English-related structures, which proves that in the absence of known linguistic structures, referring to English ones seems to be the easiest option.The present article asks whether it is possible to “force” participants in an experiment to use certain items from the Italian lexicon (related to colour, number, and shape) instead of those that come from English, despite their declared lack of knowledge of the Italian language. The results of two studies, one with a control group where the participants were asked to learn words in English as well as random CVCVCV strings, and one “contaminated” with Italian, where random words were exchanged with Italian ones, are compared in order to determine whether Italian is as useful as English from the perspective of participants in experiments and possesses lingua franca features that can be noticed in the case of the original evolutionary experiment. It turned out that, due to its high learnability, Italian exhibits lingua franca features and, given similar historical conditions to English, could regain its historical lingua franca status.


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