Constraints on Word Order in Emerging Communication Systems

What are the underlying motivations for the conceptualization of events? Recent studies show, that people prefer the semantic order Agent-Patient-Act, or SOV when asked to gesture about transitive events. This pattern is argued to reflect a “cognitively natural order” for the conceptualization of events. We consider alternative explanations and explore these by means of referential games in which pairs of participants use silent gesture to communicate about two types of transitive events: (i) object manipulation events, and (ii) object construction events. These have inherently different logical and sequential structure: in manipulation events, the objects must precede the action while in construction events, objects appear as a consequence of the action. Accordingly, we hypothesize different gesture orders.