The Origins of Vowel Systems

Paperback | August 15, 2001

byBart de Boer

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This book addresses the question of how the properties of human vowel systems can be explained. Though it is found that vowel systems of human languages are optimal for communicative purposes, it is not clear who is doing the optimization. If children learn a language, they learn to producesounds that are as close as possible to those used by their parents and peers. The hypothesis is put forward that the optimization is the result of self-organization in a population of language users. Self-organization is the emergence of order on a global scale in a system where there are onlylocal interactions. It is a phenomenon that appears in many natural systems from purely physical ones, such as crystals, to systems composed of living organisms, such as colonies of insects. Recent developments in linguistics indicate that self-organization might also play an important role inlanguage.The theory is put to the test by implementing it as a computer model. This computer model simulates the interaction in a population of artificial 'agents' that can each produce and perceive vowels in a human-like way. The vowel systems that emerge from the computer simulations closely resemble humanvowel systems. It is also shown that many simple variations on the basic system can be investigated, thus providing valuable insight into the dynamics of systems of speech sounds.The ultimate aim of the book is to provide insight into how language has evolved. It turns out that the mechanism of self-organization can make it easier to explain the evolution of language, since it provides an alternative mechanism for the emergence of certain linguistic structures.

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This book addresses the question of how the properties of human vowel systems can be explained. Though it is found that vowel systems of human languages are optimal for communicative purposes, it is not clear who is doing the optimization. If children learn a language, they learn to producesounds that are as close as possible to those ...

Bart de Boer is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington. After completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, he spent four months carrying out fieldwork on the Bahing language of East Nepal before returning to Vrije as a Postdoctoral Assistant....

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:184 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.55 inPublished:August 15, 2001Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198299664

ISBN - 13:9780198299660

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction2. Universal Tendencies of Human Sound Systems3. Self-Organization4. The Simulation5. Results6. Simulated Evolution of Other Parts of Language7. Implications for Other Parts of LanguageReferences