Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Language use is simpler than previously thought, finds Cornell study

26.09.2012
For more than 50 years, language scientists have assumed that sentence structure is fundamentally hierarchical, made up of small parts in turn made of smaller parts, like Russian nesting dolls. But a new Cornell University study suggests language use is simpler than they had thought.

Co-author Morten Christiansen, Cornell professor of psychology and co-director of the Cornell Cognitive Science Program, and his colleagues say that language is actually based on simpler sequential structures, like clusters of beads on a string.

"What we're suggesting is that the language system deals with words by grouping them into little clumps that are then associated with meaning," he said.

Sentences are made up of such word clumps, or "constructions," that are understood when arranged in a particular order. For example, the word sequence "bread and butter" might be represented as a construction, whereas the reverse sequence of words "butter and bread" would likely not.

The sequence concept has simplicity on its side; language is naturally sequential, given the temporal cues that help us understand and be understood as we use language. Moreover, the hierarchy concept doesn't take into account the many other cues that help convey meaning, such as the setting and knowing what was said before and the speaker's intention.

The researchers drew on evidence in language-related fields from psycholinguistics to cognitive neuroscience. For example, research in evolutionary biology indicates that humans acquired language (and animals did not) because we have evolved abilities in a number of areas, such as being able to correctly guess others' intentions and learn a large number of sounds that we then relate to meaning to create words. In contrast, the hierarchy concept suggests humans have language thanks only to highly specialized "hardware" in the brain, which neuroscientists have yet to find.

Research in cognitive neuroscience shows that the same set of brain regions seem to be involved in both sequential learning and language, suggesting that language is processed sequentially. And several recent psycholinguistic studies have shown that how well adults and children perform on a sequence learning task strongly predicts how well they can process the deluge of words that come at us in rapid succession when we're listening to someone speak. "The better you are at dealing with sequences, the easier it is for you to comprehend language," Christiansen said.

The study by Christiansen and his colleagues has important implications for several language-related fields. From an evolutionary perspective, it could help close what has been seen as a large gap between the communications systems of humans and other nonhuman primates. "This research allows us a better understanding of our place in nature, in that we can tie our language ability, our communication abilities, more closely to what we can see in other species. It could have a big impact in terms of allowing us to think in more humble terms about the origin of language in humans," Christiansen said.

The research could also affect natural language processing, the area of computer science that deals with human language, by encouraging scholars to focus on sequential structure when trying to create humanlike speech and other types of language processing, Christiansen said. He pointed out that machines already successfully perform such tasks as translation and speech recognition thanks to algorithms based on sequential structures.

The study, "How hierarchical is language use?" was published Sept. 12 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (http://bit.ly/RUGa7E). The research was funded by the European Union, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the Binational Science Foundation.

Contact Syl Kacapyr for information about Cornell's TV and radio studios.

Syl Kacapyr | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

Further reports about: Cognitive Science Language brain region language processing

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Study relating to materials testing Detecting damages in non-magnetic steel through magnetism
23.07.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

nachricht Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Biosensor allows real-time oxygen monitoring for 'organs-on-a-chip'

21.08.2018 | Medical Engineering

Researchers discover link between magnetic field strength and temperature

21.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

IHP technology ready for space flights

21.08.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>