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"Lots of users mean languages gain more words"


Date: 25 February 2015

A commentary on:

Bromham, Lindell, Xia Hua, Thomas G Fitzpatrick, and Simon J Greenhill. “Rate of Language Evolution Is Affected by Population Size Author: Bromham , L.  Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Pnas,  v. 112  No. 7, Pp. 2097  Date: 2015.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, no. 7 (2015): 2097–2102.

 From at Ars Technica:

If you ever wondered as a child who invented the English language, the answer might have surprised you: no one did. We got this incredibly sophisticated system of communication from no particular person. Languages just sort of sprung up and evolved, just like biological organisms.

But is their evolution really like-life? How does the process happen? These questions have been addressed and analyzed in theoretical models, but there are competing explanations that are difficult to discriminate between. A group of researchers has constructed and performed a study to test how languages change in different environments, and the new results could provide clues about the underlying mechanisms by which languages evolve.

The aim of the study was to test how the language-using population size affects the rate of change. Languages lose old words and gain new words all the time—but does that happen faster or slower when there are large populations of speakers?

Read the full story here.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University