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Math Science

The Evolution of Language 528

TaeKwonDood writes "We all know language has evolved but mathematicians are trying to take how it has changed in the past to predict what it will be like in the future." From the article: "Mathematical analysis of this linguistic evolution reveals that irregular verb conjugations behave in an extremely regular way -- one that can yield predictions and insights into the future stages of a verb's evolutionary trajectory," says Lieberman, a graduate student in applied mathematics in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and an affiliate of Harvard's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. "We measured something no one really thought could be measured, and got a striking and beautiful result.""
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The Evolution of Language

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  • by wanderingknight ( 1103573 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @11:09PM (#20935725)
    Actually, written English hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages. It's the pronunciation the one that's changed a lot, and that's why us non-native English speakers are sometimes baffled by the incoherence of the English spelling.
  • by JoshJ ( 1009085 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @11:44PM (#20935947) Journal
    Like what?

    System.out.println("Hello, world."); // ?

    Because in that case it makes perfect sense.

    (code begins) (open paren) (String begins) (sentence begins) (sentence ends) (String ends) (close paren) (code ends)

    I have no problem with a sentence like:

    Bill said, "Go to the store."

    Because in that case, it's logical. Well, almost. You could argue that it should read:

    Bill said, "Go to the store.".

    Because there's really two sentences there (the narrator's sentence as well as Bill's) but actually putting two periods is redundant and I have no problem with the internal period in that case.
  • by AoT ( 107216 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @12:10AM (#20936093) Homepage Journal
    Yes, I cry and cry when people forget the Harvard comma [].

    Oh wait, no I don't, it's a useless extra comma that isn't necessary.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2007 @02:42AM (#20936827)
    Yep. Handy for backwards compatibility though, wouldn't you say?
  • by Max Littlemore ( 1001285 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @02:47AM (#20936841)

    Yes, but they're all American dictionaries, so they don't really count, do they?

    You'll also find "burglarize" in American dictionaries. There's already a prefectly good verb - burgle - from which comes burglar, but you guys get all confused about shortening a noun to verberize it, so you have to make a new, bigger verb so you can feel safe about conjugaterizationerizing that. Does my head in.

    No, American dictionaries don't count, sorry.

  • Ummm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by j3w ( 860785 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @03:20AM (#20936937)
    I understand this has pretty much nothing to do with the article but my prediction for the evolution of language is something a little closer to New Speak... just look at text messaging- Surely the written word can not take such a grievous blow without some damage spilling over into the spoken word. Just you wait... the future of language is double plus ungood!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2007 @03:42AM (#20937009)
    TFA is fascinating. They predict that the irregular form of "be" will persist for tens of thousands of years. But consider the usage by inner-city blacks in America of the phrase "we be," as in "We be leaving," to mean "We are leaving." The basic verb is "be" and the irregular plural present tense is "are." I know that TFA focused on past tense, but could this be an example of a verb becoming regularized right under our noses?

  • by JoshJ ( 1009085 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @04:01AM (#20937071) Journal
    You're talking about a language in which the utterance "ain't" has been around for centuries and yet it has been insisted for equally long that "ain't ain't a word!"
  • by aproposofwhat ( 1019098 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @06:01AM (#20937583)
    Lem - absolutely the best, most well thought out sci-fi ever written.

    His Master's Voice is up there with Borges, Hemingway, Camus, Orwell and Greene in the canon of great 20th century literature.

    Everyone should read HMV at least once in their life - it's a pity I can't read it in the original, as I'm a poor Anglophone with no Polish at all :-{

  • by Fjan11 ( 649654 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @06:47AM (#20937827) Homepage
    Darwin showed that adaptation is much larger in small isolated communities than in larger ones. English already changes a lot slower than, say, Dutch. If the internet turns the world into one big English speaking community than I wonder of their predictions based on past data hold.
  • by professionalfurryele ( 877225 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @07:43AM (#20938091)
    If you cant analyze it mathematically, how can you discover anything at all? If you don't have a significance or error to go with your result then you have no idea if your result is ball park, dead on, or just plain wrong. Everything which can be stated as fact requires a standard estimate of uncertainty from statistics. When that is not available the least reliable source or list of sources on which the conclusion is based is quoted. It is then understood that this exists to guide a future mathematical approach, or to set up assumptions.
    The same approach exists in other sciences and even mathematics itself. We haven't proved the Riemann hypothesis, we are not sure if it is true, but there is lots of evidence to suggest as much. And there are lots of things that we have shown are equivalent to proving the Riemann hypothesis. The bottom line however, is that until the Riemann hypothesis is shown to be true, everything based on it is also unproven albeit interesting speculation. The same problem exists in physics. The Higgs particle has never been observed directly, but if we speculate that it is there then we can explain a number of experimental results. Until I see a Higgs particle come out of the LHC however I will not consider it's existence to have been demonstrated.
    The quest for historical fact should be the same as any other science, simply coupled with the acceptance that unlike the hard sciences it is much easier to produce speculation without proof than it is to produce hard results. This results in a difference in method, not in objective.
    The mathematical approach is never inappropriate when your objective is to establish fact.
  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @11:40AM (#20940855)

    "Fuck" in the "fuck you" sense seems to have all the same properties as the entire phrase "I am displeased with". So "describe and I am displeased with communism"?

    Hmm... But take the phrase "to fuck up". It doesn't have anything to do with being displeased, it just means that someone has just failed, and in a particularly spectacular way at that. So, "fuck communism" could also be interpreted "fuck up communism", or "make communism fail in a spectacular manner". So, the original sentence of "describe and fuck communism" could then be interpreted as "describe communism and make it fail in a spectacular way".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:31AM (#20952523)
    The Aussie version is "Why do they nickname him "Wombat"? Because he eats, roots, shoots and leaves.

    This has been around since the 1960's.

    A note for our American cousins. If a woman is "rooting for her team", she is not waving her hands around but spreading her legs (among other things). Elvis singing "Tuttie Fruitie, I want a rootie" is just plain disgusting.

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