Why do people switch their language?

March 14, 2017

In physics, the movement of particles over time and space is called diffusion. Models of physical diffusion can also be applied to describe the movement of other things - even those that have nothing to do with physics at first sight. "The term interdisciplinary diffusion means using methods from physics to describe the spread of animals, diseases, rumours - or, in our case, languages. This approach allows us to study large amounts of data and play with different scenarios", explains the study author Katharina Prochazka, a physicist and linguist.

"Microscopic" view of language movement

The interdisciplinary study is based on the principle of cellular automata which is combined here for the first time with detailed empirical data. In this method, the study area is divided into small cells which are all viewed individually as under a microscope. As a result, it is possible to capture changes in language movement on a very small scale. At the same time, the whole region is recorded and described--an advantage compared to other approaches which often only consider the percentage of speakers in the population and offer no information about spatial distribution.

Interaction as the driving force

In their research, Katharina Prochazka and Gero Vogl followed the language movement in Southern Carinthia, Austria, during the periods 1880-1910 and 1971-2001. In this region, two languages - Slovenian and German - interact with each other in an exceptionally well-documented linguistic "ecosystem". "Our computer simulations show that interaction with other speakers of the same language is the driving force for language spread and retreat. The number of speakers of a language in the same village and the neighbourhood is, therefore, the most important factor. We were able to demonstrate and quantify this using physical methods", reports Katharina Prochazka. The model developed in the study thus contributes to the fundamental understanding of language shift which happens in many places around the world and mostly affects minority languages.
-end-
Publication in "PNAS": Quantifying the driving factors for language shift in a bilingual region, Katharina Prochazka, Gero Vogl, PNAS (2017), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1617252114

Project website: http://dcs.univie.ac.at/languagediffusion

University of Vienna

Related Language Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

How effective are language learning apps?
Researchers from Michigan State University recently conducted a study focusing on Babbel, a popular subscription-based language learning app and e-learning platform, to see if it really worked at teaching a new language.

Chinese to rise as a global language
With the continuing rise of China as a global economic and trading power, there is no barrier to prevent Chinese from becoming a global language like English, according to Flinders University academic Dr Jeffrey Gil.

'She' goes missing from presidential language
MIT researchers have found that although a significant percentage of the American public believed the winner of the November 2016 presidential election would be a woman, people rarely used the pronoun 'she' when referring to the next president before the election.

How does language emerge?
How did the almost 6000 languages of the world come into being?

New research quantifies how much speakers' first language affects learning a new language
Linguistic research suggests that accents are strongly shaped by the speaker's first language they learned growing up.

Why the language-ready brain is so complex
In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks.

Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.

Learning language
When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing.

Learning a second alphabet for a first language
A part of the brain that maps letters to sounds can acquire a second, visually distinct alphabet for the same language, according to a study of English speakers published in eNeuro.

Read More: Language News and Language Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.