Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Mind and the Tradition research group in Jena, Germany have created a smartphone game to simulate the birth and evolution of a new language. By digitally engaging numerous players to interact for the invention of an exclusively visual language scheme, the app is designed to shed new light in the study of how human communication systems and languages evolve.
The game uses only colours and symbols. But, since words are out of the game, how can we ‘invent’ a new language?
“The idea is to create a new language made of new symbols that will evolve and that we can study in real time’ says Post Doc Researcher Tiffany Morisseau.
How the app works?
The game connects two players – a sender and a receiver. The users are engaged in a communication process where only colours and symbols can be used. The sender is assigned a target colour, which they need to communicate to the receiver through a set of black and white symbols. Then the receiver needs to guess which colour is symbolically described. This process initiates a visual discourse; a new kind of language, a language beyond words.
And while it may sound like another puzzle game, project lead Olivier Morin explains that, “The Color Game is not a puzzle game, it’s not about decoding symbols. The only code that has to be broken is the language that you and the other players will build.”
A contemporary research model
By digitally immersing users into a new meaning-making process, the app shakes off the traditional experimental approaches of cognitive science and cultural evolution. Instead of engaging them in scientific labs, the researchers attempt to test hypotheses about how communication systems evolve by approximating the real conditions of human interaction outside the lab walls.
Data Privacy and Research Ethics
The actions as well as the data subsets generated by the app are fully anonymised and shared exclusively within the scientific community.
Color Game Website
Color Game Android App Store
Color Game Apple Store
Inventing a universal language. Recording its birth for science. (2018, May). Retrieved from Color Game The science of Communication: https://colorgame.net/en/
Jorgenson, A. (2018, May). New App Lets You Invent A Language for Science. Retrieved from D-Brief: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2018/05/15/color-game-language-evolution/#.WzH687puKUk
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History . (2018, May). Retrieved from The evolution of language? There’s an app for that: http://www.shh.mpg.de/928779/color-game
Morin, O., Winters, J., Müller, T. F., Morisseau, T., Etter, C., & Greenhill, S. (2018). What smartphone apps may contribute to language evolution research. Journal of Language Evolution.
Written by Foteini Stathopoulou – Communications Study Visitor at TermCoord. Foteini is a research grant-holder at the University of Luxembourg in the field of Multilingual and Multicultural Communication. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Luxembourg in Multilingual Communication and a Master’s Degree from the Queen Mary University of London in Social Media and Culture. She is a researcher at VALIS.XI project which aims at the examination of the communicative landscape of Digital European Communities and Social Networks via Big Data approaches.