Origins of Language and Meaning


One of the fundamental outstanding problems in our scientific understanding of intelligence concerns the origins of language and meaning. A great deal is known about the structure and functioning of natural language through linguistics and natural language processing research. AI and cognitive psychology have also developed sophisticated knowledge representation and reasoning schemes. But so far, specific knowledge representations, lexicons, phonological conventions, grammars and discourse patterns have to be explicitly implemented based on extensive knowledge modeling, knowledge acquisition, formalization, and programming. This project is focusing on mechanisms that would generate these representations and conventions in a self-organizing manner. Such an approach does not only contribute to basic research issues in cognitive science and biology, but also contributes to making a bottom-up approach towards intelligence possible. Another fundamental problem related to language and meaning is the grounding problem. This is the question of how language and representations can be tightly interconnected to bridge the gap between reality and symbols representing it. The project tackles this issue by studying the processes of meaning creation and language formation in situated robotic agents operating in a dynamically evolving open ecosystem. Three hypotheses have been and are being examined:

  1. Language is an open, distributed adaptive system which is transmitted and evolves culturally (as opposed to genetically).
  2. Meaning originates in situated action. Meaning is what matters to the agent as it engages in perceptually grounded activity principally targeted towards remaining viable.
  3. Language and meaning co-evolve. Meaning continually arises when the agent interacts with the environment or other agents but it is only through language that meaning can be kept for further usage and storage and can be shared by the rest of the group.


The people involved in this projects are, among others:
  • Prof. Dr. Luc Steels
  • Dr. Edwin de Jong
  • Dr. Bart de Boer
  • Tony Belpaeme
  • Joris Van Looveren
  • Jelle Zuidema
  • Joachim de Beule
Involved members: