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New linguistic analysis contradicts findings published in Science

Posted June 2, 2014

New research published in the June 2014 issue of Language presents evidence that the methods employed by the authors of articles published in prestigious international science journals are not supported by a more rigorous linguistic analysis. The Languagearticle, “A statistical comparison of written language and non-linguistic symbol systems,” was authored by Richard Sproat, a Research Scientist at Google, based on work he previously did at the Oregon Health & Science University.

Sproat’s analysis comes in response to a number of papers published in high-profile science publications that have argued that statistical analyses of symbol combinations can provide insights into the origins of . One paper, by Rajesh Rao (University of Washington), Iravatham Mahadevan (Indus Research Centre) and colleagues at the TATA Institute in Mumbai, India, appeared in 2009 in the journalScience. It argued that a particular statistical measure—bigram conditional entropy—showed that the Indus Valley symbols behave more like those in linguistic texts than those of non-linguistic systems. In another paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Rob Lee and colleagues (University of Exeter) claimed that a more sophisticated set of entropic measures put Pictish symbols in the same category as linguistic texts.

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