Physical Aspects of Language: Components and Structure of Text and Conversation

by Elisha Moses

Weizmann Institute
at Physics Colloquium

Mon, 25 Apr 2022, 16:10
Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology (51), room 015


Language is the conversion of ideas and thoughts into a linear train of words, a channel of communication that follows strict rules and constraints. The capacity for language is a relatively recent evolutionary development in humans, and according to the theory of language established by Chomsky, humans are born with a universal “internal grammar” that enables verbal communication. Although this idea is still controversial, it has support from genetic research: Certain mutations in a gene called FOXP2 significantly impair the ability for grammar. As a natural phenomenon stemming from genes and the brain, language should thus be amenable to the tools of analysis that physics employs with other natural phenomena.

We present three studies on the components and structure of language, highlighting the role of memory and correlations. In the first, we investigate the correlation network of words in written texts to identify a hierarchy structure that harnesses memory to bind topics of interest (‘concepts’). In the second study, we see how concepts are established by the existence of loops in a network of words linked by their definitions in a dictionary. Finally, we discuss recent work on how the music, or prosody, adds information to the text. We show that as we convert words into verbal utterances, our short-term memory creates chunks, or building blocks that are then spoken by the vocal chords and muscles. The syntactic rules for using these components as a vocabulary are only now being slowly unraveled.

*** Refreshments will be served from 15:45 ***

Created on 16-04-2022 by Kats, Yevgeny (katsye)
Updaded on 20-04-2022 by Kats, Yevgeny (katsye)