Even though some aspects of language are very static over long periods of time the fact that languages are constantly in flux will make it next to impossible to “calculate” individual statements or even entire texts (in other words: to “figure out their meaning”)

The title of this post is excerpted from “The Wisdom of the Language“, an article I wrote over 7 years ago. Recently published research has now corroborated my hypothesis.

As my friend Lawrence Wilkenson wrote the other day:

Readers will likely have heard of the recent research that has identified a list of two dozen “ultraconserved words” that have survived 150 centuries. It includes some predictable entries: “mother,” “not,” “what,” “to hear” and “man.” It also contains some surprises: “to flow,” “ashes” and “worm.”

Of course it feels great to have my ideas vindicated this way, but what is perhaps even more interesting is the logic behind the research: Apparently, words used more often are more stable within human language (indeed, the words I listed in my article are primarily words I recalled off the top of my head from earlier research done by Zipf — so I guess that is another link).

This might also open another way to define brand names (versus natural language): If a string is used often in the present, but was hardly ever or even never used in the past, then there is probably a high likelihood that it is a brand (and not a word).

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