Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference 2019

Season naming and the local environment

Charles Kemp
University of Melbourne
Alice Gaby
Monash University
Terry Regier
University of California, Berkeley

Seasonal patterns vary dramatically around the world, and we explore the extent to which systems of season categories support efficient communication about the local environment. Our analyses build on a domain-general information-theoretic model of categorization across languages, and we identify several qualitative predictions that emerge when this model is applied to season naming, including the prediction that systems with odd numbers of terms should be comparatively rare. We test the model quantitatively using a collection of season systems drawn from the linguistic and anthropological literature and data specifying temperature and precipitation in locations associated with these systems. The results include some successes for the model but also highlight some significant respects in which our approach falls short of a complete account of season naming.