VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
1. A Cultural Code: Systems Linguistics
For still another manifestation, as it must, the universal dynamic, self-organizing, fractal system is found to infuse in the evolution of human language, with regard to constructive grammar and syntax, along with its informational content, equally for script and speech. This latest mode of social communication is now seen to have a deep congruence with the molecular genetic code, as if a "languagome." And so once more a Systems Linguistics can be initiated. This congruence serves researchers in both domains and is another example of nature using the same procedure over and over. Circa 2012, with their increasing proliferation, citations that well perceive literary content and discourse as complex, scale-free networks are included in the Rosetta Cosmos section.
Biosemiotics 2006. www.biosemiotics2006.org. Abstracts for this international conference in Salzburg, Austria are available online and augur for new insight and synthesis. In the semiotic view, biological phenomena from protein modules to an oriented evolution most of all involve signification – the conveyance of information and meaning. From fungi to humans, constant modes of communication are thus expressed. Typical participants are Stacey Axe, Jesper Hoffmeyer, Guenther Witzany, Marcello Barbieri, Kalevi Kull, and John Collier. In a natural genesis, after the phenotype of complex bodies and brains, what is implied is an immaterial, genotype-like quality which characterizes and rises with life’s personifying gestation.
Only since exploration of space do we become increasingly aware how the entire architecture of the cosmos seems to be synchronized in a way to make life possible in the first place. (Abstract of “Biophotonics and Information, Matter and Energy - Nonlinear World-View” by Pierre Madl and Maricela Yip)
Arbib, Michael and Mihail Bota. Language Evolution: Neural Homologies and Neuroinformatics. Neural Networks. 16/9, 2003. The lead article in a special issue on neuroinformatics, a project similar to bioinformatics, which uses computers to organize vast amount of data. A specific NeuroHomology Database (NHDB) is described as a way to construct an evolutionary continuum from macaque to human with regard to the readiness of the brain for language.
The Descent of Words.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A commentary by the University of Auckland psychologist on a paper in the same issue “Automated Reconstruction of Ancient Languages using Probabilistic Models of Sound Change” by University of British Columbia systems linguists Alexandre Bouchard-Cote, David Hall, Thomas Griffiths, and Dan Klein. For background, circa 1970 Ramon Jacobson, Jean Piaget, and others alluded that there is a deep affinity between genetics and linguistics. Some four decades on, this report describes how bioinformatic methods of “probabilistic string transducer algorithms developed for ancestral genome reconstruction” can similarly parse the historical course and structures of proto-languages. While the authors are careful to say their work complements prior linguistic analysis, it achieves a significant advance and verification of the invariant character, widely separated in evolutionary time and space, of life’s salient modes of organic prescription and welfare.
In this paper, we present an automated system capable of large-scale reconstruction of protolanguages directly from words that appear in modern languages. This system is based on a probabilistic model of sound change at the level of phonemes, building on work on the reconstruction of ancestral sequences and alignment in computational biology. Several groups have recently explored how methods from computational biology can be applied to problems in historical linguistics, but such work has focused on identifying the relationships between languages (as might be expressed in a phylogeny) rather than reconstructing the languages themselves. (4224) Using phonological representations allows us to perform reconstruction and does not require us to assume that cognate sets have been fully resolved as a preprocessing step. Representing the words at each point in a phylogeny and having a model of how they change give a way of comparing different hypothesized cognate sets and hence inferring cognate sets automatically. (4224)
Aunger, Robert, ed. Darwinizing Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Considerations of the evolutionary and psychological aspects of Richard Dawkins’ theory of memetics, whereby cultural “memes” such as ideas, phrases, paradigms may propagate similar to molecular genes.
Baker, Mark. Linguistic Differences and Language Design. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7/8, 2003. Every language is based on universal principles while being distinguished by discrete superficial variations. By this theory, English, Japanese and Mohawk, seemingly unrelated, actually have deep similarities.
Barnard, Alan. Language in Prehistory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. In his latest volume, the Edinburgh University professor of the anthropology of South Africa offers the luminous insight that abilities for linguistic discourse arose in hominid bands for the main purpose of telling stories and conjuring myths about themselves and the fantastic natural realm they found themselves in.
Beckner, Clay, et al. Language as a Complex Adaptive System. http://www.santafe.edu/research/publications/workingpapers/08-12-047.pdf. A draft prospectus for a conference held at the University of Michigan, November 7 – 9, 2008, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the journal Language Learning. The conference website is: http://elicorpora.info/LLC. Its significance, together with a flurry of similar work in both this section and Emergent Genetic Information, is the evidential presence not only in linguistic discourse, but also in genomic networks, of these universal, independent dynamics which could then be significantly appreciated as a “cosmic genetic code.”
Language as a CAS involves the following key features: The system consists of multiple agents (the speakers in the speech community) interacting with one another. The system is adaptive, that is, speakers’ behavior is based on their past interactions, and current and past interactions together feed forward into future behavior. A speaker’s behavior is the consequence of competing factors ranging from perceptual constraints to social motivations. The structures of language emerge from interrelated patterns of experience, social interaction, and cognitive mechanisms. The CAS approach reveals commonalities in many areas of language research, including first and second language acquisition, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, language evolution and computational modeling.
Beckner, Clay, et al. Language as a Complex Adaptive System: Position Paper. Language Learning. 59/Supp. 1, 2009. The issue collects papers from Santa Fe Institute and University of Michigan conferences. While inspired by UM’s John Holland, a founder of this theoretical concept, the ten authors, including Holland, Richard Blythe, Joan Bybee, Morten Christiansen, William Croft, Ellis, Jinyun Ke, Larsen-Freeman, and Tom Schoenemann (search) represent a cadre of leading linguists. In this CAS regard, there are several ways that multiple agents or elements interact – as speakers in dynamic conversation, and as words or sentences in a textual document. Salient characteristics of CAS are: Distributed Control and Collective Emergence, Intrinsic Diversity, Perpetual Dynamics, Nonlinearity and Phase Transitions, and Adaptive Network Structures.
The advantage of viewing language as a CAS is that it allows us to provide a unified account of seemingly unrelated linguistic phenomena. These phenomena include the following: variation at all levels of linguistic organization; the probabilistic nature of linguistic behavior; continuous change within agents and across speech communities; the emergence of grammatical regularities from the interaction of agents in language use; and stagelike transitions due to underlying nonlinear processes. We outline how the CAS approach reveals commonalities in many areas of language research, including cognitive linguistics, sociolinguistics, first and second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, historical linguistics, and language evolution. (2)
Bel-Enguix, and Dolores Jimenez-Lopez. Biocomputing: An Insight from Linguistics. Natural Computing. 11/1, 2012. Universitat Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, Spain, Mathematical Linguistics Group researchers whose project is to integrate biology, computation and linguistics present an overview of their fertile intersects. In this regard, with Luc Steels, natural language is to be known as a “complex adaptive system.” A growing number of contributions like this across biosemiotic, computational information, and genomic domains are quite defining an innately textual, scriptural nature, as long foretold. By these lights, an independent, universal narrative and message seems to ever rewrite, retell and expound itself. The authors, with Veronica Dahl, are also editors of Biology, Computation and Linguistics: New Interdisciplinary Paradigms (IOS Press, 2011). Their chapter therein “Genetic Code and Verbal Language: Syntactic and Semantic Analogies” is a historical survey of the commonalities and steady convergence of these premier programs.
This paper is placed in a formal framework in which the interdisciplinary study of natural language is conducted by integrating linguistics, computer science and biology. It provides an overview of the field of research, conveying the main biological ideas that have influenced research in linguistics. Our work highlights the main methods of molecular computing that have been applied to the processing and study of the structure of natural language: DNA computing, membrane computing and networks of evolutionary processors. Moreover, some new challenges and lines of research for the future are pointed out, that can provide important improvements in the understanding of natural language as a structure and a human capacity. (Abstract)
Binder, Phillippe and Kenny Smith, eds. The Language Phenomenon: Human Communication from Milliseconds to Millennia. Berlin: Springer, 2013. As the subtitle cites, a synoptic edition that seeks an integration and rooting of words, grammar, syntax, content of script and speech with life’s long episodic, evolutionary trajectory. Might we even imagine a true cosmic and global gestation ever trying to represent, describe, say something, in an expected response, we read you? Certain chapters are Learning: Statistical Mechanisms in Language Acquisition by Elizabeth Wonnacott, and Evolution: Language Use and the Evolution of Languages. The entries by Pierre-Yves Oudeyer and Simon Kirby are reviewed separately for their significant advances.
Blackmore, Susan. The Power of Memes. Scientific American. October, 2000. A popular article to summarize the author’s book The Meme Machine (Oxford, 1999) which expands on Richard Dawkins’ proposal that ideas, concepts and so on are cultural equivalents to molecular genes. By this view, our lives are much taken with their influence and propagation.
Blythe, Richard. Symmetry and Universality in Language Change. arXiv:1508.05297. A paper by the University of Edinburgh physicist for the Flow Machines Workshop on Creativity and Universality in Language in Paris, June 2014. Once again several distinct aspects can be seen coming together. The corpus of human discourse in text and talk is here becomes another iconic exemplar of independent complex dynamic systems at their formative effect. As this natural literacy proceeds, as if a self-writing and reading genesis uniVerse one might add, common patterns repeatedly appear and iterate. As statistical, condensed matter physics morphs into a complexity science, our linguistic expression becomes one with and rooted in an innately literal cosmos.
We investigate mechanisms for language change within a framework where an unconventional signal for a meaning is first innovated, and then subsequently propagated through a speech community to replace the existing convention. We appeal to the notion of universality as it applies to complex interacting systems in the physical sciences and which establishes a link between generic ('universal') patterns at the macroscopic scale and relates them to symmetries at the microscopic scale. By relating the presence and absence of specific symmetries to fundamentally distinct mechanisms for language change at the level of individual speakers and speech acts, we are able to draw conclusions about which of these underlying mechanisms are most likely to be responsible for the changes that actually occur. Since these mechanisms are typically believed to be common to all speakers in all speech communities, this provides a means to relate universals in individual behaviour to language universals.