Ferrer-i-Cancho, R.; Riordan, O.; Bollobás, B. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological sciences Vol. 272, num. 1562, p. 561-565 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2957 Data de publicació: 2005-03 Article en revista
Although many species possess rudimentary communication systems, humans seem to be unique with regard to making use of syntax and symbolic reference. Recent approaches to the evolution of language formalize why syntax is selectively advantageous compared with isolated signal communication systems, but do not explain how signals naturally combine. Even more recent work has shown that if a communication system maximizes communicative efficiency while minimizing the cost of communication, or if a communication system constrains ambiguity in a non-trivial way while a certain entropy is maximized, signal frequencies will be distributed according to Zipf's law. Here we show that such communication principles give rise not only to signals that have many traits in common with the linking words in real human languages, but also to a rudimentary sort of syntax and symbolic reference.
Words in human language interact in sentences in non–random ways, and allow humans to construct an astronomic variety of sentences from a limited number of discrete units. This construction process is extremely fast and robust. The co–occurrence of words in sentences reflects language organization in a subtle manner that can be described in terms of a graph of word interactions. Here, we show that such graphs display two important features recently found in a disparate number of complex systems. (i) The so called small–world effect. In particular, the average distance between two words, d (i.e. the average minimum number of links to be crossed from an arbitrary word to another), is shown to be d˜ 2–3, even though the human brain can store many thousands. (ii) A scale–free distribution of degrees. The known pronounced effects of disconnecting the most connected vertices in such networks can be identified in some language disorders. These observations indicate some unexpected features of language organization that might reflect the evolutionary and social history of lexicons and the origins of their flexibility and combinatorial nature.