Language as a Dynamical System

  • #1
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A few years ago I read two pretty groundbreaking linguistic papers from the 90s arguing that natural languages are networks which can be conceptualized from the perspective of nonlinear dynamical systems theory, with a lexicon being a state space and grammatical rules being attractors in that state space.

The first paper was by Elman and was called 'Language as a Dynamical System', here is a link: Elman 1996
The second paper was by Niyogi and was called 'A Dynamical Systems Model for Language Change', here is a link: Niyogi 1997

I know much of this research was inspired by a 1989 work of linguist John Hawkins and Physics Nobel Laureate, Murray Gell-Mann, titled 'The Evolution of Human Languages', but I am more interested in how they have influenced the contemporary situation and the future, not how it was influenced from the past. Does anyone here have any experience with and/or perhaps in-depth knowledge of what became of such dynamical systems approaches in linguistics?
 

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  • #2
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Piatelli-Palmarini et al. 2015, Linguistics and some aspects of its underlying dynamics
Abstract said:
In recent years, central components of a new approach to linguistics, the Minimalist Program (MP) have come closer to physics. Features of the Minimalist Program, such as the unconstrained nature of recursive Merge, the operation of the Labeling Algorithm that only operates at the interface of Narrow Syntax with the Conceptual-Intentional and the Sensory-Motor interfaces, the difference between pronounced and un-pronounced copies of elements in a sentence and the build-up of the Fibonacci sequence in the syntactic derivation of sentence structures, are directly accessible to representation in terms of algebraic formalism. Although in our scheme linguistic structures are classical ones, we find that an interesting and productive isomorphism can be established between the MP structure, algebraic structures and many-body field theory opening new avenues of inquiry on the dynamics underlying some central aspects of linguistics.
 
  • #3
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Something related: a recent review of the field of comparative studies of language evolution in animals.

Pepperberg 2017, Animal language studies: What happened?
Abstract said:
The extent to which nonhuman animals can learn actual human language is a controversial question, but many nonhuman species have acquired elements of a two-way communication system that is, and was, sophisticated enough to enable its use in evaluating cognitive capacities. This article is a personal view of the history of these animal language studies.
 
  • #4
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The link doesn’t lead to Niyogi but Elman had offered interesting interpretations. Further suggestions could include,

For some more recent modal linguistic texts (e.g. Kaufmann et al, Mouton de Gruyter, 2006, Yagasawa, 2012).

For biolinguistics (e.g. Corballis, 2018 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10339-018-0878-1 incorporates Nobel spatial mapping research) and there is other e.g. primate comparison in other papers in that text.

For more historic change examples, Barry agued creation of equally weighted vowel and consonant alphabet, recording verse (e.g. Barry, Cambridge University Press, 1991), and scientific interpretation has been discussed (e.g. Anaximander, Rovelli, Westholme, 2011, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anaximander-Carlo-Rovelli/dp/159416262X&tag=).

For modifications to alphabetic language use, Whiteheadian and functional linguistics, e.g. Halliday and verb nounification.

Possibly different linguistic comparisons can include CL, e.g. Sinha, 2014.
 
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  • #5
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A correction- it was not Barry, but Barry B Powell, given as an example of argument on the creation of the alphabet: Barry B Powell, Cambridge University Press, 1991, (in Powell’s case in favour of Wade-Gery’s further suggestion of an aim in the recording of verse).
 
  • #6
Klystron
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The link doesn’t lead to Niyogi but Elman had offered interesting interpretations. [snip]
The Elman link leads to text; the figures collected as end notes. MIT website search found relevant papers and lecture transcriptions. http://web.mit.edu/search/?q=nyogi
 
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Thanks, Klystron.
 
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  • #9
Klystron
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Interesting article that will require time to digest and to update some, perhaps outdated, ideas I learned years back. The research described in this paper seems to support @Auto-Didact 's references to the minimalist program (post #3). Measuring duration in animal gestures seems clever, though I need to study the authors' use of expressions from computer science such as compression.
 
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  • #10
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Yes, thanks Klystron, the patterns might agree or offer alternatives to some of the suggestions, and these do seem clever measures.
 
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  • #11
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I have a bit too much on my plate at the moment to read this paper indepth (and reread the rest), but just the abstract alone is already very exciting. I need to clear my back log (writing three different papers atm) and then get back to this stuff asap; I will give a proper response once that is done.
 
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  • #12
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Thanks, Auto-Didact, I look forward to your thoughts in time.
 

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