The indefinite impact of the evolution of language
Language is more than a mere means of communication. It is a part of one’s culture, heritage, ideology, and belief. What once originated as a primal need of human beings, is now connecting everything and everyone globally from the grass-root level, while changing. A hundred years ago our vocabulary contained ‘thy’, ‘thine’, and ‘thou’, whereas, today we don’t even have the time to address someone properly. The most popular reactions we get in this generation is OK, LOL (Laugh Out Loud), YOLO (You Only Live Once), etc. On one hand, the evolution of language sets new contemporaries, beliefs, and customs;, on the other hand, the process abandons much irreplaceable cultural significance, ancestral memories, heritage, unique knowledge, and traditions. Minority languages, especially, bear the brunt of this evolution. According to UNESCO “one language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.”
David Smith, an assistant professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University, has delved deep into the continuing changes in the development of language. His research focuses on how languages have changed over the last several hundred years. In the last few decades, most of the libraries around the world are digitalising their literature and miscellaneous texts. This has proved to be a very significant step as it will help scholars and researchers everywhere to access information from anywhere because the texts have become searchable files. Smith and his team will use corpora like the Penn Treebank, which includes the syntactic analyses of 30,000 sentences from The Wall Street Journal, to build statistical models that automatically detect the syntax of a sentence in a digitised book.
According to Smith and his team, the prime challenge would be building models that work across a diverse range of texts over the last several hundred years, including newspapers, blogs, and telephonic conversations.
“The statistical models predict which words are connected to other words in a sentence,” Smith explained. “The problem is that over 500 years, precisely because of the very phenomenon we’re trying to model, words’ patterns of attachment change.”
Since the model doesn’t require human supervision, the group of researchers can access the results simultaneously. This will greatly help the team to analyse the cultural and social changes that took place in the past few decades because of the evolution of language.
Smith’s research is primarily focused on computational linguistics, “but texts can be evidence for lots of things in the humanities,” he explained. “Not just language itself, but what people talk about with language.”
The success of this research will greatly affect how we perceive the evolution of language and the cultural heritage associated with it. Hopefully, this research will also help the minority languages to retain their irreplaceable culture and traditions with the ever-evolving nature of language, simultaneously.