Salt: The Incremental Chemistry of Language Acquisition

Yuri Tarnopolsky




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Keywords: linguistics, language, language acquisition, language evolution,  language and chemistry,
atoms and words, molecules and thoughts, Pattern Theory, Ulf Grenander, Hungarian language, atomistic systems




This e-paper continues the examination of language as a quasi-molecular system from the point of view of a chemist who happens to ask, “What if the words were atoms?” Ideas of Pattern Theory (Ulf Grenander) are used as a kind of generalized chemistry. The Hungarian folktale A Só  (Salt) is represented as a sequence of syllabic triplets. Small portions  of the text are fed to a quasi-chemical reactor working according previously described principles of acquisition and categorization of generators. The gradual development of categorization and aggregates of syllables is illustrated.



                From Introduction:


This e-paper directly follows and complements the previous one [1], the introduction, literature review, content, and discussion of which will not be repeated here except for two notes.

First, my primary subject of interest is atomistic systems in general, within the framework of  Ulf Grenander’s Pattern Theory [2,3], which encompasses both molecules and utterances.

Second, my previous attempt to analyze a fragment of the Hungarian folk tale A só  (Salt) in the same manner as The Three Little Pigs , i.e., regarding words as generators [1], showed  no promise because of the agglutinative nature of Hungarian. There were too few words that could be centers for categorization and generator acquisition because most functional morphemes stayed appended within the word limits. Here I attempt to analyze the same text, taking syllables as generators and gradually adding sentences into the focus of attention.


            The choice of text  was dictated by its availability on the Web in both text and audio forms, as well as by its cultural origins. The folk tale is a perfect window into the language because of its transparency, simplicity of context, universality of human experience, and repetitions. The folk tales are relics of the earlier stages of language evolution when the complexity of life and ideas did not press hard on the language, extruding multilevel sculptures of wired together fragments that needed a long attention span and training to understand. The tales correspond to the bygone pre-state era when the entire society spoke the same language. A folk tale is like a book of one page, so that you do not need turning the pages in order to follow the plot, while keeping in mind what was on the previous pages, now out of sight. The tale is designed to be told, not written. Moreover, it is designed for children.

[1]     Yuri Tarnopolsky (2005). The Three Little Pigs : Chemistry of language acquisition.


Full text, pdf file    Draft     Last major update March 2, 2005