Friday, September 20, 2013

Scientific American on the "Deep Structures of Language"

This is extremely geeky, yet if you enjoy language and words as much as I do, I think you’ll find it well worth the long slog through. 

In an alternative to Chomsky’s "Universal Grammar," scientists explore language’s fundamental design constraints
By Joshua K. Hartshorne
 Scientific American

There are two striking features of language that any scientific theory of this quintessentially human behavior must account for. The first is that we do not all speak the same language. This would be a shocking observation were not so commonplace. …

The second striking feature of language is that when you consider the space of possible languages, most languages are clustered in a few tiny bands. That is, most languages are much, much more similar to one another than random variation would have predicted.