Friday, December 19, 2014

"Just thinking"... #1: Complexity and Junk DNA

I have a lot of thoughts and ideas but I always like to fact-check and double check before I say anything. I thought I'd share some of the stranger ones with you for the sake of entertainment. These are not serious thoughts, just strange thoughts. This one is one of the strangest and might fit better in an edition of the Speculative Grammarian.

What can we learn by comparing mature/complex language features and junk DNA in biological organisms?

I.e. something entities that have been around for a long time acquire and have a hard time to get rid of. Mature features or frills in languages can be things that take a long time to evolve and sometimes bleaches down so much that it barely has any function anymore, except to mark group membership. Complex features is a umbrella term for lots of things, they're not necessarily the same.

I don't know a lot about Junk DNA/non-coding DNA, but I do know that you can get it from not deleting copies (bleaching..?) and retroviruses. Organisms that have little of it are more likely to be younger, but not all old have a lot of it. In other words, you gotta be old to have it, but some old organisms delete a lot. This is my poor understanding of it.

The comparison seems to end badly when we have to consider how "they get rid of it", languages might get rid of frills/mature patterns by intense contact situations (pidgins -> creoles etc) or perhaps large proportions of L2-speakers. As I understand it we're not entirely sure why and when biological organisms delete junk DNA, some do it a lot (carnivorous bladderwort plant, bacteria) and others not at all (pine trees).

This is probably not a very good idea at all, but when you're around people working with Neanderthals and in a strange mood it's hard not to get inspired.

So.. that's the strange thought for this time. Lemme know if you liked it and then I'll share more with you :).

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