Language Evolution — Who Be Studying It?

Harvard’s Erez Lieberman, Jean-Baptiste Michel are applying mathematical analysis to changes in the English language to make predictions on how the language will evolve and what changes we can expect.

Lieberman and Michel’s group computed the “half-lives” of the surviving irregular verbs to predict how long they will take to regularize. The most common ones, such as “be” and “think,” have such long half-lives (38,800 years and 14,400 years, respectively) that they will effectively never become regular. Irregular verbs with lower frequencies of use — such as “shrive” and “smite,” with half-lives of 300 and 700 years, respectively — are much more likely to succumb to regularization.

Lieberman, Michel, and their co-authors project that the next word to regularize will likely be “wed.”

If you’re like me you will find this interesting because it mixes language, math, pattern recognition, data mining all together to come up with some pretty cool results. No one? Oh well.

I’m pretty disappointed by this study’s prediction that “to be” will be one of the last verbs to be regularized in the English language because of its high rate of use. Not that I really want it to be regularlized, but I’m pretty sick of hearing it misconjucated. Count the number of times you hear (or even worse, read) a sentence like this today…

“There’s many ways to waste time at work.”

Wrong. There are many ways to waste time at work, or there’s one way to waste time at work.

It’s suprising how many trained professional writers in newspapers and magazines have trouble conjucating for singular and plural subjects.

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