How New Words Enter Language

Joined
Aug 19, 2003
Messages
46,805
Likes
17,183
Points
284
Location
Eblana
#1
How new words become part of a language

09:00 16 October 2005

NewScientist.com news service
Mark Buchanan

When unwanted email first came along, people invented different words for it, such as unsolicited email and junk email. But eventually "spam" became the word of choice to describe the phenomenon.

It's a process that happens each time a new thing needs a name, but language researchers have struggled to model how it happens without a central decision maker. Now a computer model shows the process at work - and may give insights into how the first human languages emerged.

Luc Steels of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris in France and his colleagues studied the "naming game", a simple computer model that reflects how people invent words and use them. In the game, a group of "agents" live in a virtual environment with a number of "objects". Each agent makes up random names for the objects, and the agents then interact in pairs, trying to "talk" about those objects.

Name game
In each interaction, one agent (the speaker) says its word for an object, while the second agent (the hearer) listens. If the hearer fails to recognise the word, it memorises it as a possible name for the object. But if the hearer understands the word, both agents retain this word in memory and ditch any others they have made up or heard.

Repeated over and over again, this process reflects how people invent and share new words for objects: they constantly invent new words, yet can only use ones that others understand, so it keeps a lid on the number of words in use.

The simulations showed that this is enough for the emergence of a unique shared vocabulary. In the model, each object always ends up being described by just one word (www.arxiv.org/physics/0509075). "The model is as simple as possible," says Steels. "But it captures the main ingredients of how a population develops an efficient communication system."

Evolving grammar
So could a similar process have helped the historical emergence of human languages? "Absolutely," says linguist James Hurford of the University of Edinburgh, UK. But he emphasises that in addition to common words, human language also requires richer structures such as grammar, the emergence of which the model cannot yet explain.

Repeated over and over again, the process reflects how people invent and share new words for objects

While Steels and colleagues hope to develop more complex models capable of evolving grammar, they already see potential applications in computing. For instance, programmers currently have to establish standards to get commercial or scientific databases to communicate effectively. It may soon be possible to get computers to talk to one another by letting them evolve a common language on their own.

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8163

Related Articles
Structure exposes the evolutionary roots of languages
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8040
22 September 2005
Is science held up by language shortfalls?
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns? ... 725141.900
27 August 2005
An instinct for language: New Scientist talks to Steven Pinker, one of new breed of linguistic psychologists bent on tracing the biological roots of grammar and syntax
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns? ... 219314.200
25 June 1994
Weblinks
Luc Steels, Sony Computer Science Lab
http://www.csl.sony.co.jp/csl-paris_e.html
Jim Hurford, University of Edinburgh
http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/%7Ejim/
 
Joined
Aug 19, 2003
Messages
46,805
Likes
17,183
Points
284
Location
Eblana
#2
And how language sounds evolve. Farmers involved.

Don't like the F-word? Blame farmers and soft food.

When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture, they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those slight overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like "f" and "v," opening a world of new words.

The newly favored consonants, known as labiodentals, helped spur the diversification of languages in Europe and Asia at least 4000 years ago; they led to such changes as the replacement of the Latin patēr to Old English faeder about 1500 years ago, according to linguist and senior author Balthasar Bickel at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The paper shows "that a cultural shift can change our biology in such a way that it affects our language," says evolutionary morphologist Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, who was not part of the study.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/201...ly_2019-03-14&et_rid=394299689&et_cid=2715844
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
6,013
Likes
2,700
Points
234
#3
And how language sounds evolve. Farmers involved.

Don't like the F-word? Blame farmers and soft food.

When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture, they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those slight overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like "f" and "v," opening a world of new words.

The newly favored consonants, known as labiodentals, helped spur the diversification of languages in Europe and Asia at least 4000 years ago; they led to such changes as the replacement of the Latin patēr to Old English faeder about 1500 years ago, according to linguist and senior author Balthasar Bickel at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The paper shows "that a cultural shift can change our biology in such a way that it affects our language," says evolutionary morphologist Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, who was not part of the study.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/201...ly_2019-03-14&et_rid=394299689&et_cid=2715844
Though it's published in a reputable journal, I don't believe it for a minute. I'd be interested to see how it pans out though, and I'm happy to be surprised.
 
Top