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friday :: march 4, 2005
linguistic research moving in new direction

Some linguistics researchers are applying larger scientific principles that describe natural forces to the study of language. This represents a major shift in linguistics research done over the last several decades.

A new strand of research uses the principle of 'self organization,' a concept used in studying all kinds of complex systems, from thunderstorms to the human immune system, and not just language. Self-organization, in a nutshell, is when a system evolves a large structure from repeated small-scale interactions between its smaller elements, says Andrew Wedel, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"I think there is a big shift from the explanation from a single level, advocated by Noam Chomsky, that one grammar algorithm is coded in our genes, to a more layered set of explanations where structure gradually emerges in layers, over time through many cycles of talking and learning," he said. >from *Linguistic research moving in new direction*. February 21, 2005

The forces of variation and selection which shape human language have become issues of extensive research. Documentation of sounds and sound patterns, and their evolution over the past 7000-8000 years allows linguists to quantify the important role of human perception, articulation and imperfect learning as language is passed from one generation to the next. Juliette Blevins presents a new approach to the problem of how genetically unrelated languages across the world often show similar sound patterns, without invoking innate mechanisms specific to grammar. Languages as far apart as Native American, Australian Aboriginal, Austronesian and Indo-European show similar patterns of vowel and consonant inventory and distribution, but exceptions to sound patterns regarded as universal show that these similarities are best viewed as the result of convergent evolution.

By showing how universal tendencies in sound structure emerge from phonetically motivated sound change, Evolutionary Phonology undermines a central tenet of modern Chomskyan linguistics: that Universal Grammar, an innate human cognitive capacity, plays a dominant role in shaping grammars. Blevins argues that humans learn sound patterns on the basis of their exposure to hundreds of thousands of examples of them in the first years of life. Where universal tendencies exist, they are emergent properties of language as a self-organizing system. >from *Natural Selection As We Speak*. Shared properties of human languages are not the result of universal grammar but reflect self-organizing properties of language as an evolving system. February 18, 2005

related context
language development via the internet. february 18, 2005
> agrammatic but numerate by rosemary a. varley, nicolai j. c. klessinger, charles a. j. romanowski, and michael siegal. 'these results demonstrate for the first time the remarkable independence of mathematical calculations from language grammar in the mature cognitive system.' february 15, 2005
> number and language: how are they related? by rochel gelmana and brian butterworth. 'numerical concepts have an ontogenetic origin and a neural basis that are independent of language.' december 1, 2004
> synchrony: order is inevitable. april 9, 2003
> abstract thought on non-human animals. october 16, 2001

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