Conflict, cheap talk, and Jespersen’s cycle

Christopher Ahern, Robin Clark


Game-theory has found broad application in modeling meaning in both the classical Gricean case of common interests between interlocutors and, more recently, in cases of conflicting interests. Here we consider how conflicting interests between speakers and hearers can be used to explain language change. We use tools from evolutionary game theory to characterize the effect of conflicting interests in the case of Jespersen’s cycle. We show how the cycle can be modeled as an inflationary process due to signaling with costless signals under conflicting interests. We fit the resulting dynamic model to time series data drawn from a historical corpus of Middle English.


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language change; historical linguistics; negation; Jespersen’s cycle; evolutionary game theory

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ISSN: 1937-8912

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