Navigation Links
Survival of the fittest: Linguistic evolution in practice

(Washington, DC) 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. A preprint version is available on line at:

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 poolthe 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 neatin 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, thoughwhen 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.


Contact: Alyson Reed
Linguistic Society of America

Related biology news :

1. Law enforcement vital for great ape survival
2. Addition of trastuzumab may potentially equalize disease-free survival outcomes among obese and normal-weight patients
3. Environmental conditions and predators affect Atlantic salmon survival in the Gulf of Maine
4. Biodiversity can promote survival on a warming planet
5. Gray jays winter survival depends on food storage, study shows
6. Salmon and other fish predators rely on no guts, no glory survival tactic
7. Gene flux can foretell survival for trauma patients, Princeton study finds
8. Sensory experience and rest control survival of newborn neurons in adults
9. Trastuzumab and chemotherapy improved survival in HER2-postive breast and brain cancer patients
10. Bacteria develop restraint for survival in a rock-paper-scissors community
11. A drug combination extends survival in refractory lung cancer patients
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/27/2015)... BERLIN, Germany , October 27, 2015 ... 2015. SMI,s Automated Semantic Gaze Mapping technology (ASGM) automatically ... SMI,s Eye Tracking Glasses , so that ... Suite BeGaze. --> Munich, Germany ... technology (ASGM) automatically maps data from mobile eye tracking ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... and LAS VEGAS , Oct. ... Labs , an innovator in modern authentication and a ... announced the launch of its latest version of the ... enabling organizations to use standards-based authentication that supports existing ... S3 Authentication Suite is ideal for organizations deploying customer-facing ...
(Date:10/23/2015)... California , October 23, 2015 ... (SMI) announce a mobile plug and play integration of ... real-world tasks SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) present ... wearable solutions for eye tracking and physiological data registration. ... SMI Eye Tracking Glasses 2w and physiological ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/26/2015)... , November 26, 2015 ... --> Accutest Research Laboratories, a ... Research Organization (CRO), has formed a ... Center - Temple Health for joint ... ,     (Photo: ) , ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 25, 2015 2 nouvelles études permettent ... les différences entre les souches bactériennes retrouvées dans la ... des êtres humains . Ces recherches  ouvrent une nouvelle ... prise en charge efficace de l,un des problèmes ... chats .    --> 2 nouvelles études ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... "Company"), affirms that its business and prospects remain ... , Zoptrex™ (zoptarelin doxorubicin) recently received DSMB ... program to completion following review of the final ... met Phase 2 Primary Endpoint in men with ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... company uBiome, were featured on AngelList early in their initial angel funding process. ... AngelList syndicate for individuals looking to make early stage investments in the microbiome ...
Breaking Biology Technology: