. Earth Science News .

Survival of the fittest: Linguistic evolution in practice
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 16, 2011

One implication of these findings is that the sounds in a word can subtly bias the choices people make about whether or not to create that word, or use it once created, ultimately influencing which words "catch on" and which die out.

A new study of how compound word formation is influenced by subtle forms of linguistic pressure demonstrates that words which "sound better" to the speakers of a language have a higher chance of being created, suggesting that, like biological organisms, words are subject to selection pressures that play a role in deciding which words become part of a language over time.

The study, "Grammars leak: Modeling how phonotactic generalizations interact within the grammar," to be published in the December 2011 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Andrew Martin, of the Laboratory for Language Development at the RIKEN Brain Science Center in Wako, Japan.

Different languages are marked by the different restrictions they place on which sounds are permitted to occur in words. In English, for example, long consonants are not allowed within single morphemes (units of meaning), but they are permitted in compound words like bookcase, where two identical consonants are located next to each other across the boundary between the two morphemes.

Compare the pronunciation of the /p/ in car pool versus carp pool-the two compound words differ only in the length with which the /p/ is held.

Before now, the rules in English that govern long consonants have been stated simply: they are forbidden within morphemes, but if a long consonant is created by combining two words to form a compound, then it's allowed.

"In my paper, however, I present evidence from a corpus of written English that things are not so neat-in fact, when English speakers create compounds, they tend to avoid creating compounds like bookcase that contain long consonants, even though these words are permitted by the rules of English" Dr. Martin commented.

One implication of these findings is that the sounds in a word can subtly bias the choices people make about whether or not to create that word, or use it once created, ultimately influencing which words "catch on" and which die out.

This research also tells us something about how the rules within a language are interrelated. It would be simple to build a computer, for example, that could learn that long consonants are forbidden in one context, and completely acceptable in another context.

Humans don't seem to work this way, though-when they learn that something is forbidden in one context, they can't help but think that the same thing doesn't sound very good even in a completely different context. This connectivity must be taken into account when building models of how people learn and store the rules of their language.

A preprint version of this report is available online here

Related Links
Linguistic Society of America
All About Human Beings and How We Got To Be Here

Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
Buy Advertising Editorial Enquiries


. Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Taxi driver training changes brain structure
London, UK (SPX) Dec 14, 2011
As London taxi drivers in training are busy learning how to navigate the city's thousands of streets and places of interest over a period of years, the experience actually changes the very structure of their brains, according to a report published online in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. The findings add to evidence that learning changes the adult brain and should come as encou ... read more

Mob involved in Fukushima clean-up: Japan reporter

Japan set to declare Fukushima plant shutdown

The hermit of Fukushima 'staying put' despite risks

Scientists Assess Radioactivity in the Ocean from Japan Nuclear Power Facility

Researchers explain granular material properties

Stress causes clogs in coffee and coal

New eco-friendly foliar spray provides natural anti-freeze

Amazon selling over one million Kindles a week

Sewage treatment plants may contribute to antibiotic resistance problem

Species, and threats grow in Mekong region: WWF

Brazil's Belo Monte dam better than alternatives: study

Mekong nations meet on controversial Laos dam

South Pole conquest hailed 100 years on with eye on climate

Antarctic expedition checks CryoSat down-under

GPS Reveals 2010 Spike In Greenland Ice Loss Lifted Bedrock

Plunge in CO2 put the freeze on Antarctica

Salt-tolerant crops show higher capacity for carbon fixation

Earliest Known Bug-Repellant Plant Bedding Found at South African Rock Shelter

As climate change sets in, plants and bees keep pace

Nature's medicine cabinet could yield hundreds of new drugs

Thai flood death toll exceeds 700

Major 7.1 quake strikes Papua New Guinea: USGS

Mexico unrattled one day after quake

Major 6.5 quake hits southern Mexico, 2 dead

Casamance rebel faction condemns attack on Senegal troops

Poverty blights S.Africa's liberation army veterans

Newest nation South Sudan ravaged by war, climate

US troops deploy in LRA rebel hunt: Uganda army

The Disappearance of the Elephant Caused the Rise of Modern Man

Survival of the fittest: Linguistic evolution in practice

Taxi driver training changes brain structure

Why Are Humans Not Smarter


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement