A colorful formalization of the typological prevalence hypothesis.


Languages vary in the way they categorize semantic domains. Incidentally certain semantic systems appear more often than others across the world. Recent research has shown that the attested variability can be explained as the result of languages being a plurality of optimal solutions to efficiency constraints. However, the question of the prevalence remains open. Assuming that languages are a form of culturally transmitted cognitive technology, the Typological Prevalence Hypothesis proposes that the prevalence of a linguistic system is explained by how cognitively natural it is to learn and use. We aim to formalize and test this hypothesis by proposing an information-theoretic measure of communicative and developmental naturalness applied to color typology. While controlling for phylogenetic relatedness, we find that both communicative and developmental naturalness are important predictors of typological prevalence.

Proceedings of the 45th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society