Colour terms: native language semantic structure and artificial language structure formation in a large-scale online smartphone application


Artificial language games give researchers the opportunity to investigate the emergence and evolution of semantic structure, i.e. the organisation of meaning spaces into discrete categories. A possible issue with this approach is that categories might carry over from participants’ native languages, a potential bias that has mostly been ignored. In a referential communication game, we compare colour terms from three different languages to those of an artificial language. We assess the similarity of the semantic structures and test the influence of the semantic structure on artificial language communication by comparing to a separate online naming task providing us with the native language semantic structure. Our results show that native and artificial language structures overlap at least moderately. Furthermore, communicative behaviour and performance were influenced by the shared semantic structure, but only for English-speaking pairs. These results imply a cognitive link between participants’ semantic structures and artificial language structure formation.

Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 33(4), 357-378
Thomas F. Müller
Thomas F. Müller
Postdoctoral Researcher