- Published on 12 November 2015
Language is a collective phenomenon, shared by a group of speakers, and originating from interactions between individual group members. This dimension has captured the interest of statistical physicists who have applied their methods to study how languages change and differentiate themselves from one another over time.
In this EPJ B Colloquium, Richard Blythe explains how the dynamics of language have been studied across a range of descriptive levels; from the behaviour of individual agents learning simple artificial languages from each other, to changes in the structure of languages shared by large groups of speakers over historical timescales.
The author identifies and discusses four levels of hierarchy by which language and linguistic behaviour can be described and presents the key insights that come from them. Blythe argues that future developments may arise by linking the different levels of the hierarchy together in a more coherent fashion, in particular where this allows more effective use of rich empirical data sets.
The hierarchy set out here could in principle be extended to longer timescales and to the coevolution of cultural and biological factors, thereby potentially shedding light on some important questions related to the origin of language.
Richard A. Blythe (2015),
Colloquium: Hierarchy of scales in language dynamics,
European Physical Journal B, DOI: 10.1140/epjb/e2015-60347-3