Complex Systems Theory can help us better understand some of the mechanisms that shape our cultures and languages. Here are three academic examples from the ECCS 2010 conference in Lisbon.
Wikipedia and Linguistic Networks
(“Generating Linguistic Networks Based on Large Corpora of Linguistic Data”)
With the rise of the web, linguistic networks such as Wikipedia reach a size, structure and complexity that have been widely unknown so far. These networks induce a further level of information structuring above the level of textual aggregates and their constituents. For example, Wikipedia allows the classification of its pages into categories that are defined dynamically by the community. Alexander Mehler analysed these categories and showed some evidences of interesting properties. That pages belonging to a same category can have characteristic text structures recognizable without the need to understand the meaning of the texts. In the same way, the structure that forms Wikipedia in different languages seems characteristic as well. Just by looking at the relations between the categories, one might have a clue of their language, without having to look at the texts. These methods are not accurate enough to be predictive, but they can increase the accuracy of semantic analysis. Findings like these uncover structures of our knowledge that were until now unknown or hypothetical.
Social influence model of language competition
Many languages that existed not long ago have either died, or are listed as endangered. This research concentrates on developing models that can reproduce the empirical distribution of language sizes. Social impact may be responsible for many phenomena known from the study of languages, such as the puzzling correlations between grammar features across different languages.
A Mathematical Approach to the Study of the United States Code.
The United States Code is a document containing over 22 million words. Scholars and policy advocates often discuss the direction and magnitude of changes in various aspects of the Code. Does it get more complex with time? Daniel Martin Katz and Michael Bommarito formalized mathematically the notions behind this question, and demonstrated by the analysis of the system that the Code has grown from 2008 to 2010 in its amount of structure, interdependence, and language.
Could one day legal texts be analysed scientifically in terms of logic and efficiency?