Language learning...

Discussion in 'Soap Box' started by lifeisashedog, Apr 30, 2008.

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  1. lifeisashedog

    lifeisashedog Well-Known Member

    I wonder how come that the most commonly used verbs (be, have, go...) in English are also the most irregular (and therefore harder to learn).
    And it's the same with Italian language. Do verbs get spoiled if people use them too much?
     
  2. nedflanders

    nedflanders Well-Known Member

    No, but they get regularized if people don't use them too much.

    Lieberman et al., "Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language" Nature 449:713-716 (2007)

    For those who don't have a decent library, here's the abstract:

    Human language is based on grammatical rules(1-4). Cultural evolution allows these rules to change over time(5). Rules compete with each other: as new rules rise to prominence, old ones die away. To quantify the dynamics of language evolution, we studied the regularization of English verbs over the past 1,200 years. Although an elaborate system of productive conjugations existed in English's proto-Germanic ancestor, Modern English uses the dental suffix, '-ed', to signify past tense(6). Here we describe the emergence of this linguistic rule amidst the evolutionary decay of its exceptions, known to us as irregular verbs. We have generated a data set of verbs whose conjugations have been evolving for more than a millennium, tracking inflectional changes to 177 Old-English irregular verbs. Of these irregular verbs, 145 remained irregular in Middle English and 98 are still irregular today. We study how the rate of regularization depends on the frequency of word usage. The half-life of an irregular verb scales as the square root of its usage frequency: a verb that is 100 times less frequent regularizes 10 times as fast. Our study provides a quantitative analysis of the regularization process by which ancestral forms gradually yield to an emerging linguistic rule.
     
  3. lifeisashedog

    lifeisashedog Well-Known Member

    So, someday all the verbs will get regularized?

    Oh, happy day!:biggrin:
     
  4. nedflanders

    nedflanders Well-Known Member

    Not in our lifetime. If you read the paper, you'd see that the expected half-life of the most common irregular verbs is many many centuries.

    Actually, the most amazing thing about all of this is that a Soap Box thread got answered, quickly, with actual science.
     
  5. Agrigor

    Agrigor Active Member

    The more used something is, the more likely it will be the subject of unusual abbreviations/pronunciations or whatever.
     
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