21.299 quantifying evolutionary dynamics of language

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 13 Oct 2007 07:53:36 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 299.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 13 Oct 2007 07:36:43 +0100
         From: "hinton_at_springnet1.com" <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 21.293 new publications

>Those here interested in the application of
>statistical techniques to study language will be
>interested in work done by Erez Lieberman and
>colleagues at Harvard and MIT, an account of
>which has recently been published in Nature 449
>for 11 October, "Quantifying the evolutionary
>dynamics of language", pp. 713-16,

This has been getting a lot of negative criticism in the list HEL-L,
the History of English discussion list.

It would take a lot of space and time to repeat all the problems we
have indicated with what we can make of the study from the little
blurb, but a great deal of dissatisfaction has been expressed about
the authors' lack of knowledge of the history of English (for
instance, they could easily have found out Chaucer's dates),. about
the fact that the relative rates of change in the past participles of
common strong verbs versus uncommon ones has been known to historical
linguists for at least a century, the dearth of valuable diachronic
databases of English from which a careful study could be made, and
even some of the authors' statistical remarks.

In other words, the thing is getting a bad press among many
historical linguists. (And many of us feel that Nature would do well
not to accept papers in fields the editors and readers do not understand.)
Received on Sat Oct 13 2007 - 03:15:27 EDT

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