Quantifying the Evolutionary Dynamics of Language

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Quantifying the Evolutionary Dynamics of Language

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dc.contributor.author Lieberman, Erez
dc.contributor.author Michel, Jean-Baptiste
dc.contributor.author Jackson, Joe
dc.contributor.author Tang, Tina
dc.contributor.author Nowak, Martin A.
dc.date.accessioned 2010-05-24T20:24:29Z
dc.date.issued 2007
dc.identifier.citation Lieberman, Erez, Jean-Baptiste Michel, Joe Jackson, Tina Tang, and Martin A. Nowak. 2007. Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language. Nature 449(7163): 713-716. en_US
dc.identifier.issn 0028-0836 en_US
dc.identifier.uri http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:4133284
dc.description.abstract Human language is based on grammatical rules. Cultural evolution allows these rules to change over time. Rules compete with each other: as new rules rise to prominence, old ones die away. To quantify the dynamics of language evolution, we studied the regularization of English verbs over the past 1,200 years. Although an elaborate system of productive conjugations existed in English’s proto-Germanic ancestor, Modern English uses the dental suffix, ‘-ed’, to signify past tense. Here we describe the emergence of this linguistic rule amidst the evolutionary decay of its exceptions, known to us as irregular verbs. We have generated a data set of verbs whose conjugations have been evolving for more than a millennium, tracking inflectional changes to 177 Old-English irregular verbs. Of these irregular verbs, 145 remained irregular in Middle English and 98 are still irregular today. We study how the rate of regularization depends on the frequency of word usage. The half-life of an irregular verb scales as the square root of its usage frequency: a verb that is 100 times less frequent regularizes 10 times as fast. Our study provides a quantitative analysis of the regularization process by which ancestral forms gradually yield to an emerging linguistic rule. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Human Evolutionary Biology en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Mathematics en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.publisher Nature Publishing Group en_US
dc.relation.isversionof doi:10.1038/nature06137 en_US
dash.license LAA
dc.title Quantifying the Evolutionary Dynamics of Language en_US
dc.type Journal Article en_US
dc.description.version Accepted Manuscript en_US
dc.relation.journal Nature -London- en_US
dash.depositing.author Nowak, Martin A.
dc.date.available 2010-05-24T20:24:29Z

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  • FAS Scholarly Articles [7219]
    Peer reviewed scholarly articles from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University

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