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Computer Models – How New Words Become Part of the Language

In an interesting post, New Scientist’s Mark Buchanan reports on “How New Words Become Part of the Language”. Since words are an important part of blogging, understanding where words come from, how they developed, and how they are used, and to use them appropriately, is critical to a successful blog.

When unwanted email first came along, people invented different words for it, such as unsolicited email and junk email. But eventually “spam” became the word of choice to describe the phenomenon.

It’s a process that happens each time a new thing needs a name, but language researchers have struggled to model how it happens without a central decision maker. Now a computer model shows the process at work – and may give insights into how the first human languages emerged.

Luc Steels of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris in France and his colleagues studied the “naming game”, a simple computer model that reflects how people invent words and use them. In the game, a group of “agents” live in a virtual environment with a number of “objects”. Each agent makes up random names for the objects, and the agents then interact in pairs, trying to “talk” about those objects.

In each interaction, one agent (the speaker) says its word for an object, while the second agent (the hearer) listens. If the hearer fails to recognise the word, it memorises it as a possible name for the object. But if the hearer understands the word, both agents retain this word in memory and ditch any others they have made up or heard.

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