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Thread: Using Twitter to discover how language changes

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    Using Twitter to discover how language changes



    Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.

    The aim of the research was to consider if the spread of language is similar to how genes pass from person-to-person. The team investigated whether language transmission, when people have a conversation, happens in a similar way to when genes are transmitted from a parent to a child.

    The work of Dr. John Bryden, Dr. Shaun Wright and Professor Vincent Jansen from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

    Dr. Bryden said that it is known that people imitate or mirror language used by the people they talk to, but that this may only occur in those conversations. The team wanted to examine how lasting changes took place where individuals adopt words from conversations with one person and use them in conversations with entirely different people.

    The study assumed that beyond a person's own vocabulary we all have an additional internal language system which influences which words we choose and how often we use them. The study selected 1,000 words and monitored how their usage changed as a result of appearances in the online conversations.

    Professor Jansen said: "We looked at 200 million online conversations to investigate how language passes between people. We find that frequency of word usage is inherited over conversations, not just the binary presence or absence of a word in a person's lexicon. We measure that for one word in around every hundred a person encounters, they will use that word more often. Since more frequent words are encountered more often, this means that it is the frequencies of words which are copied. This copying mechanism, and its measurement, can be used to study language patterns and evolution within populations."

    He added: "There are no known genes for words, or other specific language features, yet languages change in a way that is very reminiscent of biological evolution. These similarities with biological evolution suggest that within language evolution there is an analogous unit to the gene, even if we do not know what this unit is. Here we shed some light on the nature of this unit by showing how word frequencies can be stored and passed on."

    Dr. Bryden said: "It's fascinating to observe and measure language being adopted from one person to another. When you scale this process up to the languages of whole populations, this could give us important insights into how historical events shape our language."

    The impact of the study is to help understand how languages change over time within populations and the impact this can have on dialects.

    https://phys.org/news/2018-02-twitter-language.html#jCp

    Abstract

    Language transmission, the passing on of language features such as words between people, is the process of inheritance that underlies linguistic evolution. To understand how language transmission works, we need a mechanistic understanding based on empirical evidence of lasting change of language usage. Here, we analysed 200 million online conversations to investigate transmission between individuals. We find that the frequency of word usage is inherited over conversations, rather than only the binary presence or absence of a word in a person's lexicon. We propose a mechanism for transmission whereby for each word someone encounters there is a chance they will use it more often. Using this mechanism, we measure that, for one word in around every hundred a person encounters, they will use that word more frequently. As more commonly used words are encountered more often, this means that it is the frequencies of words which are copied. Beyond this, our measurements indicate that this per-encounter mechanism is neutral and applies without any further distinction as to whether a word encountered in a conversation is commonly used or not. An important consequence of this is that frequencies of many words can be used in concert to observe and measure language transmission, and our results confirm this. These results indicate that our mechanism for transmission can be used to study language patterns and evolution within populations.

    http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.o...5/139/20170738


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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    One of the constants of any language is change. They all change, unless, for example, like Latin, they are relegated to a specific ritual function. That's why, at times, I think it shouldn't bother me that certain grammatical "rules" are broken so frequently in American English.

    Actually, I wish Italian "would" change in the sense that the subjunctive tenses would just "go away", as they have in many other languages. :)

    Of course, holding back change is exactly what the Academie Francaise and the Accademia della Crusca are all about.


    "Accademia della Crusca
    [akkaˈdɛːmja della ˈkruska] ("Academy of the Bran"), generally abbreviated as La Crusca, is an Italian society for scholars and Italian linguists and philologists established in Florence. It is the most important research institution on Italian language[1] as well as the oldest linguistic academy in the world.[2]The Accademia was founded in Florence in 1583 and it has been characterized by its efforts to maintain the purity of the Italian language."

    All my cousins, the older ones and the younger ones, still complain about the difficulty of the Italian courses. It makes me paranoid about writing in Italian myself nowadays, although I used to be very good before we moved here.

    I think most Italians would rather face an armed terrorist than converse with a member of the Academy. :) Well, that might be a slight exaggeration for comedic effect, but you get the idea.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accademia_della_Crusca

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acad%C...fran%C3%A7aise

    I wonder if this exists in other countries; it certainly doesn't exist here.


    Non si fa il proprio dovere perchè qualcuno ci dica grazie, lo si fa per principio, per se stessi, per la propria dignità. Oriana Fallaci

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