Information Theory as a Bridge Between Language Function and Language Form

Richard Futrell, Michael Hahn
2022 Frontiers in Communication  
Formal and functional theories of language seem disparate, because formal theories answer the question of what a language is, while functional theories answer the question of what functions it serves. We argue that information theory provides a bridge between these two approaches, via a principle of minimization of complexity under constraints. Synthesizing recent work, we show how information-theoretic characterizations of functional complexity lead directly to mathematical descriptions of the
more » ... forms of possible languages, in terms of solutions to constrained optimization problems. We show how certain linguistic descriptive formalisms can be recovered as solutions to such problems. Furthermore, we argue that information theory lets us define complexity in a way which has minimal dependence on the choice of theory or descriptive formalism. We illustrate this principle using recently-obtained results on universals of word and morpheme order.
doi:10.3389/fcomm.2022.657725 fatcat:r62rmtfypvbevnbrnzoasg452y