New paper by Aini Li and Gareth Roberts: The emergence of indexicality in an artificial language.

Aini Li and Gareth Roberts have published a new paper: 

Li, A. a Roberts, G. (2023) Co-occurrence, extension and social salience: The emergence of indexicality in an artificial language. Cognitive Science 47(5): e13290. (


Abstract: We investigated the emergence of sociolinguistic indexicality using an artificial-language-learning

paradigm. Sociolinguistic indexicality involves the association of linguistic variants with nonlinguis-

tic social or contextual features. Any linguistic variant can acquire “constellations” of such indexi-

cal meanings, though they also exhibit an ordering, with first-order indices associated with particu-

lar speaker groups and higher-order indices targeting stereotypical attributes of those speakers. Much

natural-language research has been conducted on this phenomenon, but little experimental work has

focused on how indexicality emerges. Here, we present three miniature artificial-language experiments

designed to break ground on this question. Results show ready formation of first-order indexicality

based on co-occurrence alone, with higher-order indexicality emerging as a result of extension to new

speaker groups, modulated by the perceived practical importance of the indexed social feature.