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Physicists Discover Evolutionary Laws of Language

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the species-first-word dept.

Science 287

Hugh Pickens writes "Christopher Shea writes in the WSJ that physicists studying Google's massive collection of scanned books claim to have identified universal laws governing the birth, life course and death of words, marking an advance in a new field dubbed 'Culturomics': the application of data-crunching to subjects typically considered part of the humanities. Published in Science, their paper gives the best-yet estimate of the true number of words in English — a million, far more than any dictionary has recorded (the 2002 Webster's Third New International Dictionary has 348,000), with more than half of the language considered 'dark matter' that has evaded standard dictionaries (PDF). The paper tracked word usage through time (each year, for instance, 1% of the world's English-speaking population switches from 'sneaked' to 'snuck') and found that English continues to grow at a rate of 8,500 new words a year. However the growth rate is slowing, partly because the language is already so rich, the 'marginal utility' of new words is declining. Another discovery is that the death rates for words is rising, largely as a matter of homogenization as regional words disappear and spell-checking programs and vigilant copy editors choke off the chaotic variety of words much more quickly, in effect speeding up the natural selection of words. The authors also identified a universal 'tipping point' in the life cycle of new words: Roughly 30 to 50 years after their birth, words either enter the long-term lexicon or tumble off a cliff into disuse and go '23 skidoo' as children either accept or reject their parents' coinages."

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First niggy (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401671)

First niggy!

Scrabble (4, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401673)

Anyone that has played Scrabble (especially against a computer) know that there's tons of words out there that no one has ever heard of, most of which you can't even find a definition for. What the hell is a Qi? I don't know, but I can get 66 points for it.

Re:Scrabble (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401699)

The problem with Qi is its about as "english language" as Shinjitai

Re:Scrabble (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401723)

It's a show on BBC2.

Some Advice (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401749)

Anyone that has played Scrabble (especially against a computer) know that there's tons of words out there that no one has ever heard of, most of which you can't even find a definition for. What the hell is a Qi? I don't know, but I can get 66 points for it.

Qi is a simple one, it's a two letter word and there are roughly a hundred two letter words accepted by TWL [phrontistery.info] which are hackable [lifehacker.com] . Qi is also something I've seen reading Chinese philosophy so that doesn't really upset me. The ones that really get me when I play against computers or people who cheat are actually the longer ones. Recently I have seen outgnawn, aliquot, mahoes, votive, the list goes on when your friends are using websites to look up permutations [hasbro.com] .

You can study this stuff and memorize things like I-dumps: ziti, ilia, ixia, inion, etc. But in the end what really got my scores higher was studying the short 2 and 3 letter words and building thick crossword-like packs of words especially over TL tiles.

Re:Some Advice (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401787)

The ones that really get me when I play against computers or people who cheat are actually the longer ones.

Cheat in what way? Having a better vocabulary than is good and proper? Or waiting until you're distracted and then looking in the dictionary?

Re:Some Advice (5, Insightful)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401831)

votive? like candles? that's your example of an uncommon word? I was expecting a list of words i'd never heard of. Votive?!

Re:Some Advice (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402279)

aliquot? talk to a chemist they know what it is

Re:Some Advice (2)

gomiam (587421) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402335)

Aliquot (proportional) wasn't a surprise to me either. It is a mostly legal term, though.

Re:Some Advice (1)

claybats (544964) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402333)

You included votive in your list of unused cheater words? I take it you are not Catholic.

Re:Scrabble (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401771)

Grammar, which in many ways is more important, was not even mentioned. I'm seeing more grammatical errors and incorrect usage every day on television and the Internet news media, such as "I seen", "he don't" and "I have went", by supposedly educated news reporters.

Re:Scrabble (2)

neokushan (932374) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401803)

Was this Fox News, perchance?

Re:Scrabble (2, Interesting)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402245)

I was all prepared to note that most of what people call grammatical errors are not actually errors in grammar, but of style or register... then you have to go and break out examples of actual grammatical errors...

Re:Scrabble (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401811)

What the hell is a Qi?

It's one of two common transliterations of a Chinese word that roughly translates as life energy. The other is Chi. Neither is a valid word under the rules of Scrabble, which restricts you to English words. Note that this doesn't prevent it from appearing in the official Scrabble dictionary, along with a large number of other words that the rules would disallow. Transliterations of Greek letters (such as pi, mu, tau) are also allowed by the Scrabble word list, but not by any reasonable reading of the rules. If you allow qi, then you can basically allow any foreign word that someone might use in an English sentence (by the same logic, the fact that people say 'je ne sais quoi' in English conversations means that quoi would be a valid Scrabble word).

Re:Scrabble (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402219)

'je ne sais quoi'

... does that translate to?

Re:Scrabble (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402617)

Literally, "I don't know what", figuratively, like an x-factor (as used to describe, say, fashion models or actors, and not the comic-book mutant kind). Ah hell, Merriam-Webster [merriam-webster.com] , Free Dictionary [thefreedictionary.com] , Wiktionary [slashdot.org] explain it better...

Re:Scrabble (1)

bfields (66644) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402623)

I've heard English speakers use "qi" in English sentences, but can't ever recall hearing anyone use "quoi" on its own in an English sentence, so until we get an ascii-32 tile I think Scrabble is safe from "je ne sais quoi".

Words are imported from other languages all the time, and it's a judgement call when to start calling them English words. For a game like Scrabble where you need a black-and-white decision in each case, that means the only way to have a complete set of rules is to agree on a dictionary. There will be inevitably be cases where someone could dispute a dictionary's choices.

What rule do you think would disallow "pi"? I have a hard time with that, especially on Slashdot, especially around this time of year. And people really do write it "pi", at least as often as the actual Greek character, and not just because they have trouble finding the latter on the their keyboards.

Scrabble (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401991)

What the hell is a Qi?

It is the alternate spelling of "Chi", a concept in Daoist philosophy that represents the primal energy of the universe.

As in "tai chi". As in "qi gong". It is also sometimes spelled "ki".

The ancient Chinese must have played a lot of Scrabble

The Scrabble word that bothers me is "aa". I mean seriously. Who even wants to play with you any more? It's not fun when you start bringing out the scrabble dictionary. I thought we said no 2-letter words, anyway. And no, I'm not being a baby.

Re:Scrabble (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402077)

Qi [reference.com]
Just sayin'...

Re:Scrabble (2)

nusuth (520833) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402199)

Life essence, alternative spelling of Chi? This is /. people, get you Qi straight:

Qi is a great lisp. It has a Turing complete, extensible type system and pattern matching like modern functional languages. It has a kernel called KI which is ported to classical lisps, clojure and javascript. Anything that has KI ported can be used for compilation of Qi compiler. The compiler generates code into host language and resulting code usually fast.

It is currently in great flux so I don't recommend actually using it. However it is an interesting language.

I hate "snuck" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401677)

That stupid word always drived me crazy.

Re:I hate "snuck" (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401729)

I see AC snuck in a comment again. (Also I just learned that Chrome doesn't consider 'snuck' a word... And here I thought it was more common than 'sneaked', which sounds weird to me.)

Re:I hate "snuck" (1)

neokushan (932374) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401823)

Firefox's English (UK) dictionary also doesn't recognise "snuck". Then again, it doesn't recognise "Firefox", either (But the US dictionary does - still no-go on "Snuck" though).

I actually hadn't noticed that before, but I agree with the above poster - "sneaked" sounds weird and wrong to me, "snuck" is what I've always used and heard others use.

Re:I hate "snuck" (2)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401873)

Yeah, it seems [grammarist.com] that while 'sneaked' is older and more likely to be considered THE true version by any authority that accepts only one of the two, 'snuck' seems more natural to many people and is gaining ground in all English speaking countries, even in newspapers (e.g. much more common in Canadian newspapers than 'sneaked').

Re:I hate "snuck" (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401931)

As someone born in the UK and moved to the US. Words like Sneaked/Snuck I use both.

I've found when I'm talking about events in the past- especially my childhood I will use the English version of the word- when I'm talking about more recent versions of the word I'll use the American version of the word.

Re:I hate "snuck" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401987)

I thought it was more common than 'sneaked', which sounds weird to me.

Yep, that's what happens - it sounds "weird" because we've heard the incorrect form so often, it sounds natural. It's like people who spell "led'" like "lead" because they've seen it that way so many times, it seems correct (and it pairs up nicely with "read," just as "snuck" pairs up with "struck.")

Note to those of you who say "this is how language evolves": It's still a mistake. We have writing standards for a reason.

Making the mistake is just ignorance, but if you know the rules and try to justify your mistake anyway by saying we should all follow your lead, well, that makes you an idiot, not a revolutionary!

Re:I hate "snuck" (3, Interesting)

chilvence (1210312) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402247)

All languages evolve like this. The only reason we feel the need to fixate them on a standard is it gives a pretence of security. The rules themselves are just a long winded way of trying to legitimise the eccentricity of a language (English) pasted together from various other European languages. Our words are disparate, our Italian alphabet is lacking several letters and our accent changes every five miles down the road in a country of 80 million. Occasionally, we are lucky enough to get away with flouting the rules without being shot down by some jobsworth pedant. There will never be any kind of reform from the top down, if that were possible in any way whatsoever there would be no French 'weekend' for sure.

You want to put the rules in perspective, consider the many millions of human beings to come that are born into the world all thinking the same thing: 'frankly, I could not give a toss about cultural heritage mammy, now where is my coke and crisps please?'. If you don't want to be paddling a canoe up a waterfall the rest of your life, then it is much more pragmatic to be relaxed about such matters, because people are much more willing to respect convention when they are not beaten over the head with it.

Re:I hate "snuck" (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402385)

people are much more willing to respect convention when they are not beaten over the head with it.

My (anecdotical, of coure) experience is that people not willing to respect language convention aren't usually willing to do it in any case. It's the ones willing to listen to a suggestion I'm interested in.

Re:I hate "snuck" (1)

N!k0N (883435) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402457)

It's like people who spell "led'" like "lead" because they've seen it that way so many times...

When the guide was injured, she took the lead and led the hikers out of the woods ^_^

Re:I hate "snuck" (4, Funny)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402487)

That stupid word always drived me crazy.

Yeeeaaaah!

"Universal laws"? (0, Troll)

Shortgeek (971350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401681)

This looks like really interesting and important research - perhaps even a tenth as important as these physicists think it is!

Re:"Universal laws"? (4, Funny)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401739)

This looks like really interesting and important research - perhaps even a tenth as important as these physicists think it is!

What physicists do when they are bored ... take away research from other fields

Re:"Universal laws"? (2)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401753)

Related: I recently learned that a large portion of the PhD's working at a particular Google office have astrophysics degrees. Go figure.

Re:"Universal laws"? (2, Funny)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401889)

Well obviously Google employees working in their moon office [google.com] would have astrophysics degrees.

(As an aside: that page is the second hit for googling "google jobs" for some reason.)

Re:"Universal laws"? (1)

rwise2112 (648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402147)

Well -- Ever heard of Google Moon and Google Mars?

Re:"Universal laws"? (3, Interesting)

Certhas (2310124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402197)

Not surprising really. What does an astrophysicist do? Point hyper sensitive instruments at random portions of the sky and generate humongous data sets that need heavy processing to extract structure and meaning. A really large part of Astrophysics these days is data analysis, almost all of it done with automated codes.

Which is for example why Renaissance Technology has a lot of Astrophysicists on board as well.

Re:"Universal laws"? (5, Informative)

allcar (1111567) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401793)

Bringing mathematical rigour to fields of research where it has previously been ignored can clearly provide some interesting insights.

Re:"Universal laws"? (4, Interesting)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402097)

Bringing mathematical rigour...

Physicists are widely known for their lack of mathematical rigor. David Hilbert, perhaps the most influential mathematician of the 20th century (who incidentally discovered Einstein's field equations before Einstein, though who was also nice enough not to get into a priority dispute since most of the work leading up to the discovery was Einstein's), is often quoted as saying some variation on, "Physics is too difficult for physicists!" His meaning was apparently that the mathematics required to rigorously justify assertions in advanced physics is often beyond the reach (or inclination) of physicists. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way, but it indicates the traditional lack of rigor in physicist's math.

The paper itself says,

We use concepts from economics to gain quantitative
insights into the role of exogenous factors on the evolution
of language, combined with methods from statistical
physics to quantify the competition arising from correlations
between words and the memory-driven autocorrelations
in u_i(t) across time.

Perhaps "Bringing quantitative statistical analysis..." is a better phrase.

Re:"Universal laws"? (3, Funny)

Kyont (145761) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402521)

All this reminds me of when a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer were told of a man who is across the room from a woman and moves half the remaining distance to the woman every minute. The mathematician said, "The man will never reach the woman." The physicist said, "In twenty minutes the man will be within an atomic radius of the woman and can be said to have reached her." The engineer said, "No problem, in five minutes that guy will be close enough for all practical purposes."

Please adjust this joke to the sexual proclivities of your audience as needed.

Re:"Universal laws"? (1)

mrbester (200927) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402565)

That's just a reworking of Zeno's paradox.

Re:"Universal laws"? (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402599)

Please adjust this joke to the sexual proclivities of your audience as needed.

Haha, thanks. I already did ;)

Re:"Universal laws"? (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401799)

What physicists do when they are bored ... take away research from other fields

My thoughts exactly. Would this not fall under anthropology?

That's about as far from physics as it gets.

Re:"Universal laws"? (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401745)

Definitely not as important as making sarcastic comments on slashdot . Whoa, this is some meta shit right here!

Applies to software development too (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401789)

Why use something that already exists when you can re-invent the wheel.
 

Pinning ... Going Steady ... Dating ... SO ... (1)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401721)

How many words are "created" by young people to replace their parents' generation's word for the same thing? I suspect that many of the "new" words are already covered, but teenagers want to sound cooler than their parents, or hide their true intentions from them.

Re:Pinning ... Going Steady ... Dating ... SO ... (2)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401837)

I remember an episode of 'Recess', a Saturday morn cartoon from the late 90's, where the main characters made up a word to replace swearing: whomps. It wasn't long before the school board dog-piled them, saying it wasn't allowed as they considered it a swear now since all the kids were using it to curse. It was a very interesting episode.

Re:Pinning ... Going Steady ... Dating ... SO ... (1)

flirno (945854) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401977)

I remember thinking they were clever and something a joke that through repetition became the accepted norm. The teenagers that were my peers way back when definately had no motives outside of 'hey that's an entertaining way to express something'.

'Culturomics'? (4, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401725)

'Culturomics'? You'd think that people studying words would be able to come up with a better word than that.

Re:'Culturomics'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401755)

They wanted to sound more active than they really are, so they chose a word that sounds like a smart exercise regimen.

Physicists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401737)

Why would physicists be studying this kind of thing?

Linguists? Etomologists, maybe? Sociologists for sure. But physicists?

This must be some new definition of "physics" that I wasn't previously aware of.

Re:Physicists? (3, Interesting)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401785)

Everything in the world is just applied physics, except for mathematics [xkcd.com] .

Re:Physicists? (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402157)

How about no.

This is what physicists think.

But in several areas of nature (and technology), there are "layers of abstraction" that abstract physics away.

Processor instruction sets have nothing to do with physics (apart from processor limitations, granted)

Human language has barely nothing to do with physics, hence the variety of them

Yeah, you can say that those have to do with physics but then, math has to do with physics, math notation has everything to do with how we can write, hold a pencil, and think symbols.

Re:Physicists? (5, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401845)

Why would physicists be studying this kind of thing?

When you graduate with a PhD in physics, you get three things:

  • A piece of paper.
  • A true understanding of how little you understand about the universe.
  • An unshakable belief that any subject that is not physics is trivia and that you know more about it than people who have spent their lives studying it.

The third means that you are obliged, at least once, to submit a paper about some other field to arxiv.org. Ideally, this paper should not cite any relevant research in the field - only other papers by physicists - and, for bonus points, should base its entire thesis a weak statistical correlation.

Re:Physicists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402087)

An unshakable belief that any subject that is not physics is trivia and that you know more about it than people who have spent their lives studying it.

Pffff. I've had that since high school.

Just stop already (4, Funny)

Zaldarr (2469168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401743)

Please. No more portmanteaus with -onomics on the end. I automatically think of Regan.

Re:Just stop already (4, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401957)

Sounds like you should attend a class on Verbal Fatigonomics.

Re:Just stop already (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402191)

Please. No more portmanteaus with -onomics on the end. I automatically think of Regan.

The good news is stupid -onomics words based on Reganonomics from the 80s, means we may finally be seeing the end of my nemesis, the (insert any noun)-gate as the journalist name of any controversy involving a politician, which came from ancient history in the 70s.

Re:Just stop already (1)

Smauler (915644) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402539)

Obligatory [youtube.com] .

Dictionary size (4, Informative)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401747)

The OED has about 600 thousand words, though still this is a lot less than a million. It would be interesting to see the most commonly used word that isn't in the dictionary.

Gullible (4, Funny)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401869)

It's not in the dictionary. Look it up.

Re:Dictionary size (1)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401893)

lol?

Re:Dictionary size (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402505)

Websters throws out words when they are unused ...OED does not once it's in it's in forever ...

But a word needs to be in common printed use before it will be accepted in the OED, and is proved not to be an ephemeral word.... this probably accounts for the other 400,000 words they spotted, they will be ephemeral neologisms, common mis-spellings, and words not normally written down ...

I suspect the most common word not in the dictionary that is in their list is either "thier" or "teh" ...

Librarian Discovers Dark Matter Under Carpet... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401797)

...Grand Unification Theory of Cosmology Proven.

Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (5, Informative)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401807)

My husband works for Merriam-Webster as an assistant editor/lexicographer. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff that goes on there. People will call and demand fame for a word. For example, some guy called in and said he'd been the one to come up with the word 'ginormous', and wanted credit for it. They don't seem to understand the process. MW's archives in the basement is a CIA-esque compilation of language; they'll use every collegiate they have for reference, going all the way back to the first one. Husband says it won't be long before internet-meme creations are included.

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (2)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401941)

Husband says it won't be long before internet-meme creations are included.

It doesn't take an insider source to figure that out. They included "d'oh" last year, and there's no reason to treat internet-memes differently than TV-memes.

Depending on your definition of "internet-meme" some already made it on there, for example lol [merriam-webster.com] .

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (1)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402161)

We're talking a complete infiltration, or even having its own separate publication. The 11th Collegiate came out in 2003 (I was about 8 1/2 months pregnant at the release party, so I couldn't enjoy the bar they'd set up in the Quadrangle's library, darn it all), and while the 12th's release isn't known to me, it's the idea that each Collegiate is basically a Bible of our times; it's not just a few minor things added between each release. The deadlines they have for projects aren't done by weeks or months but *decades*, and that enormous length of time is just as stressful and "OMG, are we gonna get this done??" as a businessman having a week to compile last month's facts and figures for their company. So the 12th Collegiate is going to be very, very, very interesting.

He'd have a flugton more to add to this (and would probably correct me on a few points), so maybe I'll link him to this.

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402223)

Flugton?

Married to a lexicographer?

Surely you jest? :)

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (1)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402265)

I make up words to replace swearing when I don't WANT to swear. I'd probably be flagged and kicked outta here if I was as potty-mouthed as I am in daily life, lol. I've often joked with my husband that I'm gonna make him add every ridiculous word I can make up into the next edition. :D

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402165)

Merriam-Webster have the first college student in their basement?

Re:Organizing Language Vs. The General Public (1)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402235)

'Collegiate' references each publication MW puts out every decade or so, not a college student. They're working on the 12th Collegiate, the 11th having come out in 2003.

To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (1, Flamebait)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401813)

The fact that language is evolving gives me no end of joy, to think of all the Grammar Nazi, getting corrected all the time because the language has changed on them.

I may just be bitter because going threw school I had one right after an other of bad English teachers, who felt that they should tell me every time I am wrong and never really explaining how I should do it right. I have never really learned proper grammar, I have only learned to dislike people who feel the need to correct every detail, and discredit my arguments. Not due to lack of logical reasoning but to technical failures in grammar and spelling.
Between K-Grad School I have had 5 English Teachers/Professors who actually were willing to help me improve my skills, who were willing to start the education with the following mindset, "you makes good points but lets make this read better" vs. what I normally get "your spelling and grammar is bad... So your points are invalid"
   

Re:To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (1)

zephvark (1812804) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401883)

Language is programming. If you can't speak coherently, how can you possibly think coherently?

Re:To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401885)

While I agree that grammar Nazis can go a bit far, and I had no problem with what you just wrote (I'll ignore threw/through, this is /. after all), I find that a lot of people write impossible-to-parse sentences. I see this in business correspondence all the time. I'll get an email from a coworker, and I won't even know what they are asking because what they typed doesn't make any sense at all, or can be interpreted about 5 different ways. A lot of it comes from people being too lazy to just type out a whole sentence or paragraph, which is sometimes what is required to get the point across. I think a lot of it is due to people not being able to type fast enough, so they just get impatient, and write the shortest thing possible, instead of what actually makes sense.

Re:To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401897)

Ain't that the truth!

Re:To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (3, Insightful)

tpstigers (1075021) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402133)

First off, I'd say your lack of language skills is indeed impacting your ability to coherently formulate an argument. Otherwise you would have noticed that the original post is not, in fact, about grammar at all. Rather, it's about words.

That said, I would also say that HOW you present an argument is just as important (if not more so) than the content of the argument itself. The point of making an argument at all is to convince someone else of the validity of your viewpoint. This task is impossible if you are unable to make yourself understood, and it's very difficult if people have dig through your statements in order to tease out your meaning. Also, the better your language skills, the less the chance your arguments will be misunderstood.

The reality is, though, it doesn't really matter how terrific your ideas are if you are unable to efficiently articulate them. Which makes the better point?

1) "I took my - you know - thing .... the thing thats sits on the round things.... you know - the THING.... yeah - with the keys and stuff - the THING. Anyway, I took the thing to the place... you know - where I do stuff... there's coffee and papers and stuff - the PLACE... and the guy who tells me what to do... you know - the PLACE."

- or -

2) "I drove my car to work."

Re:To the Bane of Grammar Nazi. (5, Insightful)

silentcoder (1241496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402171)

s/threw/through/g

"through" is an adverb indicating a passage between locations or a change of state.
"threw" is the past tense of throw.

Grammar Nazi's often get a bit extreme but when your basic spelling is up-to-shit the actual meaning of your writing gets lost. Yes language evolves - this means we coin new words, we gradually change laws of grammar - but it is not a license to write whatever you want and claim it means what you intended to mean.

I'm fairly certain from context that you intended to write "through" for example - but if I hadn't recognized it I would have been wondering if you were so badly bullied that teachers actually threw you around in school.

>I have only learned to dislike people who feel the need to correct every detail, and discredit my arguments

It's not a discrediting of arguments to correct grammar mistakes. However, repeating them when you have been corrected just makes you look stupid. Worse, it makes you an asshole. Yeah, YOU are the asshole. Why ? Because using the proper conventions of language (grammar, spelling etc.) is a form of politeness. It makes your writing easy to read.
Furthermore, it is to your own advantage as well. When you ignore good language rules what you write more often than not doesn't mean what you intended it to mean. Some of your readers will simply misunderstand you. Others will be annoyed. Very few will actually have a clue what you were trying to say- because what you were trying to write and what you actually write no longer bear any but the most limited of resemblances.

The only thing that saves the grammar-ignorant from being completely illiterate is the human ability to infer meaning from context - but context is incredibly culture, time and location specific. So the meaning of your words now become discernible exclusively to people who share your background. Everybody else (that could literally be people who live two neighborhoods away) are just sitting there shaking their heads and wondering what the fuck you're trying to say.

Oh and for a little encouragement... I am writing in my THIRD Language and very nearly all of the fucking time I get it right... you first language speakers have absolutely no excuse.

Physicists with time on their hands (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401853)

As a trained linguist, I have to treat "breakthroughs" in the field by outsiders with a big grain of salt. I don't hire a plumber to do heart surgery. I don't hire an MD to fix my car. (BTW I don't hire a lingust (like Noam Chomsky) to fix my political system either!)

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (1)

jythie (914043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401999)

That was my thought too. Sounds like someone from another field rediscovering historial linguistics but not knowing enough about what is already known to put it into terms used by the community.

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (1)

rich_hudds (1360617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402049)

I thought Chomsky and Pinker's theories about language being an 'instinct' were being overturned by the latest research, so maybe you shouldn't hire Chomsky to do anything.

Seems pretty obvious to me that language isn't an instinct as we have to be taught it.

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402183)

Hey, I heard that Newton guy got all his laws overturned. What an idiot! Better not use Newton for anything anymore.

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (2)

rich_hudds (1360617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402549)

Newton's laws weren't overturned, they were refined. Chomsky seems to have had the wrong idea entirely.

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402429)

That doesn't mean everything Chomsky's written was wrong. Chomsky was the first to make a distinction between competence and performance.

Re:Physicists with time on their hands (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402169)

Was it as well quantified before? I reckon the breakthrough is the evidence, where some of the theories can be identified as more correct than others.

Evolutionary laws of language...or just English? (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401861)

I cannot find any mention of them studying anything other than English, and if they indeed only studied English then do the same finding apply to other languages? I actually highly doubt it, especially when it comes to smaller, less-used languages. Though obviously claiming to have found some universal laws regarding all languages makes for better headlines.

Re:Evolutionary laws of language...or just English (2)

CSMoran (1577071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402179)

Had you clicked the the link to the PDF provided in the summary, you'd have stumbled onto their paper -- as in "the thing we're discussing here" -- where they mention Spanish and Hebrew were also studied.

See this all the time (4, Insightful)

cyocum (793488) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401905)

I see this all the time (I have a PhD in the humanities and I am a software engineer) where someone from outside the field does something and claims it is a universal law but really, they just worked on English and cannot (or will not) prove that it works for other languages. Usually, these papers also lack any kind of literature review and ignore many of the problems that this would uncover. I saw one paper by a physicist that tried to use bit fields to model language change; it was just massively reductionist and couldn't explain anything at all for all the mathematical rigour.

I go to my University's language lunch which has lots of this and scare the pants off grad students by saying "this is all very well but does this work for Japanese or Old Irish or any other language?" This usually makes their faces go white because naturally English is the ONLY language that matters and is therefore "universal".

Re:See this all the time (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401979)

You're a very cruel person, making those grad students think. :-)

Re:See this all the time (2)

icensnow (932196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402277)

RTFA, they worked on English, Spanish, and Hebrew for precisely that reason.

Re:See this all the time (3, Interesting)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402581)

English - An Indo-european language closely related to the Romance, and Germanic languages
Spanish - An indo-european language one of the Romance languages
Modern Hebrew - Hard to classify but has many influences from European languages mainly Indo-European Romance and Germanic languages

They didn't pick a very diverse range of languages, mostly one family, of heavily related and cross influenced languages ...

Pick something else like Yorùbá, or Mandarin Chinese ....?

Elementary anthropology (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39401983)

So physicists have reinvented battleship curves. Congratulations! We couldn't have done it a century ago without you!

Irregular verbs (3, Informative)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402009)

There has been mathematical studies on how long irregular verbs might survive in the English language [scienceblogs.com] for a long time. I remember seeing the first such article a while back.

Basically the more used a verb- the longer it will take us to be liberated from its influence. Some like the verb "to be" are so enconsced in our language that they may take many many generations to eliminate.

Of course- this ignores any political movement to eliminate them- as countries become closer- if English remains the language of democracy- there may be a push to make English more standard. A new English without all the rule contradictions it currently has would be double-plus good.

The source of the new words (2)

CrackedButter (646746) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402041)

I'm sure Americans will have created 8000 of those new words each year. Not content with the ones we British gave them, they wanted their own.

After reading this all I can say (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402127)

Is that it's pinning my bullshitometer against the max stop.

American imperialism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402163)

I'm old enough to remember all the British television and seen American language replace British/Australian language. In 2011, we saw mum and bikkie replaced by mom and cookie. Before that nappy, dummy, backside/arse were removed from the national vernacular. More generally biker and trucker have replaced bikie and truckie and so forth with similar '-ie' words. This year bum-pack was replaced by fanny-pack. I haven't heard anyone use the British version of fanny (last used in 'Billy Elliot') except to laugh at loud Americans who say 'fanny' because they don't know the word has a sexual meaning in this country.

And of course, we have help-desks in India saying in a thick accent 'no worries' to sound Australian, which is also cultural imperialism.

Wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402229)

It's not "Physicists Discover Evolutionary Laws of Language"
It's "Physicists Propose a Theory of Language Evolution"
There's no discovery going on here.
They didn't find it hiding under a rock.

3 years ago it was a different discovery (2)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402237)

Physicists claimed the evolution of language was based on some characterization of words of vocalization pattern and energy usage, the idea being that languages which afford more efficient energy requirements to the speaker tend to survive by natural selection process, just as animals in any environment evolve physical characteristics that are specifically adapted to efficient energy usage in that environment.

Is this really a new discovery? (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402283)

My wife is a linguist and much of the summary sounds like stuff she learned in her classes. The only major thing that sounds new is that he has put a large portion of Google's scans through a computational linguistics algorithm to put hard numbers to what they already believe. I know a lot of Computational Linguists come from other fields out side of traditional linguistics, but if this guy has become a computational linguists I would think it would be more appropriate to label him as one instead of what he has his phd in.

What is a word? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39402309)

The authors of the study have defined a "word" as being similar strings of characters. This means each of those 27 spelling variants of Sioux provided by William Clark was considered a separate word. So, essentially, they're dealing with the birth and death of typos. This makes the 1,000,000 words claim extremely dubious. If each spelling variant is a word, then there has to way more than 1,000,000 words.

Google Books inaccurate (1)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402401)

Google Books is notoriously inaccurate, especially with dates. I don't know if it's enough to throw their data off, but I wonder if the researchers realize this.

Here's the Google Ngram viewer (1)

nbauman (624611) | more than 2 years ago | (#39402637)

http://books.google.com/ngrams/ [google.com]

Don't spend the whole day on it.

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