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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Lyle JENKINS

Natural Laws and Biolinguistics - the case of symmetry

Abstract/Résumé: “Symmetry, as wide or as narrow as you may define its meaning, is one idea by which man through the ages has tried to comprehend and create order, beauty, and perfection.” (Weyl, Symmetry, 1983:5) Throughout the natural sciences, principles such as least action, symmetry, stochastic processes, etc. have had a profound effect on our understanding of the world around us. An area of great interest in biolinguistic research is to what degree properties of human language might be determined by principles that originate outside the language faculty itself, similar to those mentioned above, and others. For example, it has been proposed that the computational system of language might be shaped in part by principles of efficient computation or of least effort that may share properties found in other cognitive and physical systems. We will consider the specific case of principles of symmetry which have had a far-reaching effect in unifying areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and more recently, some areas of biology; e.g., pattern formation. We ask in what ways the concepts of symmetry and symmetry breaking might provide some insight into linguistic phenomena. In conclusion, we will consider how these principles could serve to unify parts of linguistics with other biological systems and, more widely, the natural sciences (the “unification problem”).