The emergence of compositional grammars in artificial codes

Fuhai HONG, Wooyoung LIM, Xiaojian ZHAO

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This paper experimentally explores how compositional grammars in artificial codes emerge and are sustained. In a communication game with no conflict of interest, the sender sends a message that is an arbitrary string from available symbols with no prior meaning to indicate an abstract geometrical figure to the receiver. We find strong evidence from the laboratory for the emergence of compositional grammars in the subjects' common codes that facilitate learning efficiency. Moreover, when there is a scarcity of symbols in the repertoire, a few groups in our experiments developed languages with positional compositionality, meaning the same symbol has different interpretations depending on its position in a string, whereas some other groups developed language structures that are not compositional but still efficient in communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-268
Number of pages14
JournalGames and Economic Behavior
Early online date10 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This study is supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (Grant No. ECS-699613).


  • Communication games
  • Compositional grammar
  • Economics of language
  • Experimental semiotics


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