Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Gerry Altmann, Adam Sheya

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Campus Access


We ask the question how human language, as a complex system of coordination, came into existence. We did an Experimental Semiotics study (a practice of doing an experiment with a group of participants to see if they can develop a new language) to try to answer this question. We are motivated by a desire to understand the mental encoding of language and how coordination can affect the structure of a society. We enrolled participants in a computer-based group coordination number summing game with three settings: 1) participants played with the same partners repeatedly, 2) participants were switched to play with different partners every four rounds and 3) participants were switched every round. We found that participants tended to have the highest rate of shifting to efficient coordination with the intermediate level of being switched around. We offer the following explanation: participants are most likely to reach best global coordination in such cases, because they have adequate chances of communicating both locally and globally. We claim that our experiment results provide evidence for self-organization - the phenomenon that a group of elements interact with each other with bi-directional feedback and form a group level structure. The Principle of Facilitative Patches provides insights into how a system travels to a more organized state via self-organization.

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Major Advisor

Whitney Tabor