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This study is part of general research in language learning and evolution at the Unviersity of Edinburgh's Centre for Language Evolution. The broad goal of the research is to tell us more about how language evolved.
What can Ferros tell us about language evolution?
The Ferro study is a new kind of Artificial Language Learning study. Artificial languages are small language systems created by researchers to provide insights into how real languages are learned and evolve over time. Ferro are different because thy examine how participants learn a completely artificial language - when you learn Ferros, you’re not just learning words you’ve never seen before, you’re learning entire symbols you’ve never seen before. In other words, you’re learning a whole new way of making signals. In written language the signal units are the letters of the alphabet, and in spoken language it's the sounds of a language. In a traditional artificial language learning experiment, even though you learn words you’ve never seen before, you immediately know something about them by virtue of already knowing how to speak and read - for example, you can easily pronounce "blick", even though you've probably never seen the word before.
There’s another twist: when you learn and reproduce a Ferro sequence, that sequence didn’t come out of nowhere - it’s the output of another participant. In other words, the sequences you learn are sequences produced by the last ‘generation’ of Ferro learners when they were playing the game. Although a small set of sequences were initially set by the experimenters, most of them were produced by other players.
This means the sequences are changing over time in systematic ways: sequences that are difficult to learn or produce will not be transmitted faithfully to the next player, and will change rapidly. When a learner makes an error in producing a symbol, that ‘mistake’ may in fact be easier for the next person to learn, and could represent a new feature which persists in the Ferro sequences through several ‘generations’ of future participants. Processes like this play a role in large scale language change.
Using more traditional written artificial languages, several studies have shown that miniature languages ‘evolve’ over ‘generations’ of participants to have features that are easier for participants to learn more faithfully. Using Ferros, we aim to show that a space of entirely novel symbols is subject to similar constraints, showing that processes of cultural evolution can operate rapidly even on languages with completely alien signals.
Where did Ferros come from? The Ferros are symbols that were made as a decorative font in collboration between Linden Gledhill and Craig Ward. They are made uisng ferrofluid ink - ink which has tiny pieces of metal in it, causing the ink to form different shapes when exposed to magnets. The font was released to backers as part of a KickStarter project in late 2015.
If you're interested in hearing about the results of the study, and getting information about other Ferro gams as they are released, contact Dr. Christine Cuskley, the lead researcher, at ccuskley at gmail dot com.
This study is being run as part of linguistics research at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. The lead researcher is Dr. Christine Cuskley. You can contact the researcher at ccuskley at gmail dot com, or over the phone (during UK business hours) at +44 (0)131 650 6658
If you have ethical concerns about the study or your rights as a participant, you can contact University of Edinburgh Linguistics and English Language Ethics committee at +44 (0)131 651 5510 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can review the terms you agreed to as a participant here.
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Nature of the study: You are about to participat in a study which involves learning new symbols called Ferros. your session should last for about 5 minutes. Your participation in this study is voluntary and uncompensated. You will be given full instructions shortly.
Risks and benefits: There are no known risks to participation in this study. The only benefits to you personally are those you draw from making a contribution to our knowledge about language.
Confidentiality: The data we collect will not be association with your name or with any other personal details or identifying information.
Voluntary participation: Your partcipation is voluntary and you may withdraw ffrom the study at any time and for any reason. After consenting, you can withdraw at any time by visiting this site, clicking o nthe;?' on the top left, and then clicking 'Withdraw'. If you withdraw from the study, during or after data gathering, your data will be destroyed. The cookie in your browser for the site will remain to insure that we do not inadvertently collect any additional data. You may manually delete this cookie at any tiem.
Contact information: This research is being conducted by Dr. Christine Cuskley at the University of Edinburgh. The researcher can be contacted at +44 (0) 131 650 6658 or ccuskley at gmail.com for questions or to report a research related problem. Contact the University of Edinburgh Linguistics and English Language Ethics Committee at +44 (0) 131 651 5510 or email@example.com if you have concerns regarding your rights as a participant in the research
I consent that the anonymous data I produce may be kept permanently in Edinburgh University archives and used for the specific research project which made them. I consent to my anonymous data being used by the above-named researcher as well as by other qualified researchers, for teaching or research purposes, in professional presentations and publications.
I understand that I have the right to terminate my participation at any point. If I choose to withdraw at anytime, my data will be deleted.
This is a game about learning an alien language called Ferro, it will take about 5 minutes to complete and participation is voluntary. It is being conducted by Dr. Christine Cuskley at the University of Edinburgh and has been granted ethical approval. Please click here to read additional information about the study.
Clicking the "Agree" box below indicates that:
You have read the additional information about the study.
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You agree that your anonymised responses may be kept permanently in the University of Edinburgh archives and may be used by qualified researchers for teaching and research purposes.
In this game, your job is to learn an alien language called Ferro. You'll only have a short amount of time, so it won't be easy! You 'speak' Ferro using the mouse. Move the green dot around the blue square below to change the symbol. When you see a symbol you want to 'say', click inside the blue box to write it to the field.
Now that you've gotten the idea of the palette, try to copy some specific sequences. While you're practicing, if you're having trouble, an orange guide circle will appear to help you. But this will only be there for the practice sequences!
Click below to start a new round of play