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The University of Southampton
The Alan Turing Institute

Seminar: Language Mechanics  Event

15:00 - 14:00
29 January 2020
University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Building 54, Room 5025

Event details

James Burridge, University of Portsmouth will deliver the second in our series of Turing at Southampton Seminars. These events are open to all.


Language is one of the primary “signals” emitted by society - a good place to start if we want a mathematical understanding human collective behavior.

In this talk I will explore how the tools of statistical physics can be used to model language evolution. First, I will describe a connection between phase ordering in magnetic systems, and the geographical evolution of language. I will show how different universality classes in physical models correspond to alternative hypotheses for the social factors which drive language change, with some models able to predict observed patterns. I will then explore the sound inventories from which languages are built, specifically vowels. Human vowel systems may be shown to spontaneously emerge from a “soup” of diffusing words, modelled as Brownian particles.

If we want such diffusive dynamics to accurately fit real linguistic data, then we can again make use of phase ordering models, treating the evolution of sound inventories as an energy minimization process. Finally, I will discuss how a combination of statistical physics and statistical learning might in future allow us to build models with realistic dynamics which fit complex linguistic datasets.

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