Universals of word order reflect optimization of grammars for efficient communication.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
The universal properties of human languages have been the subject of intense study across the language sciences. We report computational and corpus evidence for the hypothesis that a prominent subset of these universal properties-those related to word order-result from a process of optimization for efficient communication among humans, trading off the need to reduce complexity with the need to reduce ambiguity. We formalize these two pressures with information-theoretic and neural-network models of complexity and ambiguity and simulate grammars with optimized word-order parameters on large-scale data from 51 languages. Evolution of grammars toward efficiency results in word-order patterns that predict a large subset of the major word-order correlations across languages.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1910923117
View details for PubMedID 31964811
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