Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Delicious Martian Fruit

(screen shot from University of Edinburgh)

I assume you'll be having some yummy neluka pie, fresh kapihu, or baked lanepi with cinnamon to finish off your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow. Personally, I can't resist a stiff vodka & mola juice cocktail (only a radish garnish will do, people, I'm a stickler for proper cocktail garnishment).

Well, maybe this is what we'd eat if we spoke the spooky Alien Language Simon Kirby et al. are growing (HT LL). The good folks across the pond at the University of Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, Department of Linguistics and English Language Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit (takes a breath) have been trying to discover how languages evolve. To further this, they have been conducting some interesting experiments with artificial (aka 'alien') languages that begin small (e.g., with just a few fruit names), but which are then grown via cultural transmission of subsequent participants.

What they are finding, not unlike Marc Changizi in some ways (see here) is that "language has adapted to be good at being learned by us. This can happen because language evolves culturally through being repeatedly learned and used by generations of individuals."

They have also posted online what they call "an early version of an online cultural evolution experiment game relating to this work." However, it seems to be, at first at least, a version of the classic toy/game Simon (a sort-of prehistoric Play Station) where players have to repeat a series of sound/color stimuli. Unfortunately, unlike the familiar kid's toy, this one starts out at a fairly difficult level. No easy warm up period (hmmm, much like babies learning language???). In any case, I found it frustrating and my gaze was quickly distracted by milk and cookies...well, beer and cookies (I'm saving the vodka molas for tomorrow).

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