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theory of language

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gerryharp
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I don't know anything much about the theory of language, but I have lately been impressed with the quantity of data that can be expressed with a single word. Like FREEDOM.

Just by captializing and using this word, I expect to evoke emotional responses in many individuals who read it. Depending on your location and upbringing, different emotions or none may be evoked.

The communication of human emotion is what blows me away. At the drugstore today I joined the queue and thereby approached a child sitting in a cart. The child appeared to me to become fearful. (Ah! I scare small children just by standing there! (;_;)  ) I was amazed that with no word or sound at all, the child communicated her fear to me.

This exemplifies how language and body language work by using soft or hard wired concepts in the brain. Certainly instinctual responses aid in our communication with one another. It makes we wonder two things:

1. How much information is really passed through language? I guess there is less information (defined by Shannon's theorem) than there appears to be because of shared experiences or instincts. Is Shannon's theorem really the appropriate measure for information in language?

2. Can an arbitrary signal be transposed to language? Or only a subset of signals since the language is probably not a complete basis for the expression of ideas (this supposition needs to be proven, but it may be difficult to prove something outside of language with language; i.e. Goedel's theorem.

3. Since human communication depends on shared concepts, this is probably even more true in simpler animals where instinct plays a greater role (see this week's setiQuest poll).

Gerry

gerryharp
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for examle

Think of the wealth of information that is implied by someone not replying to an email or web posting. Here the "speaker' initiates no communication, yet communication is obtained. This shows nonlinear communication effects, even effective time travel for communication from a certain perspective.

adityabhatt
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Hmm

Restructuring, the way I interpreted it:

As you say in the FREEDOM example, in all commonly used languages, words and phrases evoke certain emotions. If we consider emotion to be a not-so-well-defined concept, let's say that words, phrases, and other such language constructs cause the communicating to find it 'meaningful' in some respect. Having a construct tied to a meaning is, of course, the result of shared experience/concepts.

2. Can an arbitrary signal be transposed to language? Or only a subset of signals since the language is probably not a complete basis for the expression of ideas (this supposition needs to be proven, but it may be difficult to prove something outside of language with language; i.e. Goedel's theorem.

Suppose we have a language - that can be used to represent information using a finite set of symbols. In general, if the symbol set is finite, this is effectively a means of representing digital information. Once we note this, the ability to accurately represent any arbitrary continuous signal in a finite-symbol language is constrained by Shannon's Sampling Theorem. 

gerryharp
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Shannon's theorem

Hi Aditya

You're quite right about Shannon's theorem. My problem is more about language, which I define as different (more) than just symbols. The difference is shared information at both ends of the comm channel.

I'm thinking that humans generally overestimate the content (bit rate) of language. (I've seen some language research related to bit rate, but they've always stuck to the symbolic part, alphabet, instead of words.) For example, "freedom" is a symbol that communicates a big concept with all sorts of ramifications, and with some differences in responses from different receivers. I would claim the symbol freedom contains a tiny fraction of information that triggers a memory of what freedom means in the mind. This works only because of shared experience among humans. 

Number of words in English language ~ 200,000

Why do I care? Obviously, communication with ET is going to be difficult. And I am also interested in animals and how even a small aphabet of symbols may induce complex ideas in animal brains.

Gerry

sigblips
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Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

There was a great episode of Star Trek: Next Generation called Darmok that dealt with this topic. Jean Luc was stuck on a planet with an alien who kept saying "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra". The Enterprise's universal translator could decipher the words but the meaning was completely lost. Understanding the alien language required knowledge of their folklore. An ET signal like this would create all sorts of communication challenges for us.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darmok

c0unt_zer0
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In my opinion, understanding

In my opinion, understanding  the alien language also requires understanding the worldview native speakers.

gerryharp
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worldview

Yes, that's it.

I've been thinking lately about how experimental studies of animal intelligence keep surprising us. Animals are a lot smarter than we (used to) think. Many animals also have language. I'm concerned that the human brain may be wired in such a way as to prevent us from ever understanding the depth of meaning in animal languages. Not to mention ETI.