Linguistics + Engineering…?

I have been fascinated by the subject of linguistics recently, especially the evolution of language. I read pieces here and there on the subject and attended lectures at Berkeley. On the introductory level, I learned about definitions of morphemes, syntaxes, etc.; On the research level, I read papers on how and why certain nouns in certain languages have irregular plural forms. The lectures and researchers were all experts in linguistics. This however, is precisely its limitation. Looking at linguistics as a scientist/engineer inspired me to think about a different set of questions, and different approaches to solve them.

thought #1: Can we study the evolution of language via studying the mechanical structure of the bones and muscles of the mouth? with a full understanding of the mechanical structure of the mouth, it may yield light on why we prefer to say certain vowels more than others, maybe it is more mechanically efficient (use less muscles). We could also find out why we structure words and sentences certain ways, among other things. The basis of this hypothesis is that all mechanical systems are built to convert one form of energy into another, and the builders would always want to maximize their efficiency. The anticipated result would be that words/vowels that can be spoken with least amount of energy are being said more frequently.

thought #2: Do genetics play a role in the evolution of language? several European languages utilize the sound of “rr” to create a more dramatic “r” sound, which is rarely found anywhere else in the world. Some Asian languages have multiple tones in addition to the pronunciation. Some African language have unique clicking sounds. These unique properties are often thought to be caused by the different cultures and how people interacted. But if we examine their genes, would we be able to see different genetic expressions that correlates to unique language differences? if so, did the difference in language cause the difference in genes, or vice versa? On a separate note, Latin language definitely utilized the “u” sound so much more than modern Italian, how does this phenomenon relate to genetics of old and new Italians?

I am sure there are so many more aspects of social and physical sciences that contribute to those 2 thoughts. And maybe there has been other people who asked the same questions before, I did not do a full literature search before writing. But I do believe that it is important for people to be exposed to many different subjects, because this will allow more creative thinking and maybe creating new and collaborative research projects.



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