Statistical physics of language maps in the USA

James Burridge, Bert Vaux, Michal Gnacik, Yoana Grudeva

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Spatial linguistic surveys often reveal well defined geographical zones where certain linguistic forms are dominant over their alternatives. It has been suggested that these patterns may be understood by analogy with coarsening in models of two dimensional physical systems. Here we investigate this connection by comparing data from the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes to the
behaviour of a generalised zero temperature Potts model with long range interactions. The relative displacements of linguistically similar population centres reveals enhanced east-west affinity. Cluster analysis reveals three distinct linguistic zones. We find that when the interaction kernel is made
anisotropic by stretching along the east-west axis, the model can reproduce the three linguistic zones for all interaction parameters tested. The model results are consistent with a view held by some linguists that, in the USA, language use is, or has been, exchanged or transmitted to a greater extent along the east-west axis than the north-south.
Original languageEnglish
Article number032305
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2019


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