Natural language

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The term natural language is used to distinguish languages spoken, written or signed (visually or tactilely) by humans for general-purpose communication from constructs such as writing, computer-programming languages or the "languages" used in the study of formal logic, especially mathematical logic.

In the philosophy of language, the term ordinary language is sometimes used as synonymous with natural (as opposed to mathematical or logical) language. The term has been adopted to describe computer input terms and language modeled after or based on natural human languages; rather than the artificial syntax and terms involved with computer languages. Natural language processing (NLP) is considered a sub-field of artificial intelligence and linguistics. Natural language issues hold applicability, particularly in the areas of text mining, search engines, automatic summarization, information retrieval, speech synthesis, and algorithms employed to determine the content of text streams in computational linguistics (e.g. viterbi algorithm).

Additionally, the indigenous signed languages of the world merit inclusion as natural languages owing to extensive linguistic analysis in the latter 20th century confirming their unique and consistent grammar, syntax, rules and visual logic dramatically unlike the spoken languages of the nations or geographic regions in which they arose. American, French, and British Sign Languages are the best documented examples in the literature.


[edit] Defining natural language

Though the exact definition is debatable, natural language is often contrasted with constructed languages.

Linguists as of yet have an incomplete understanding of all aspects of the rules underlying natural languages, and they are therefore objects of study. The understanding of natural languages reveals much about not only how language works (in terms of syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, etc), but also about how the human mind and the human brain function. In linguistic terms, 'natural language' only applies to a language that has evolved naturally, and the study of natural language primarily involves native (first language) speakers.

The theory of universal grammar proposes that all natural languages have certain underlying rules which constrain the structure of the specific grammar for any given language. Most constructed languages do not obey these constraints, and thus can be clearly distinguished.

While grammarians, writers of dictionaries, and language policy-makers all have a certain influence on the evolution of language, their ability to influence what people think they 'ought' to say is distinct from what people actually say. Natural language applies to the latter, and is thus a 'descriptive' term. Thus non-standard language varieties (such as African American Vernacular English) are as natural as standard language varieties (such as Standard American English).

[edit] Constructed languages

Besides ethnic languages, constructed languages such as Esperanto that have evolved to the point of having native speakers are by some also considered natural languages. However, for linguistic purposes, Esperanto and other constructed languages, while they are clearly languages, are not considered natural languages. The possible exception to this are true native speakers of such languages. (There are estimated to be 200-2000 native speakers of Esperanto.)

[edit] Written languages

Written language should be distinguished from natural language. Until very recently, it was not uncommon for many people to be fluent in spoken or signed languages and yet remain illiterate. Furthermore, natural language acquisition during childhood is largely spontaneous, while literacy must usually be intentionally acquired.

[edit] Computer science

Natural languages are deemed to be unsuitable for programming languages simply because they have a vast vocabulary that can be deemed infinite, complex grammatical rules and a sense of ambiguity surrounding them. English and French, for example, take many years to completely master, and this would have been a waste of time when dealing with computing - learning a simple yet efficient embedded language is deemed much easier. Also, any natural language is by its very nature able to express any and all meaning (though it may take a lot of words in some situations), whereas computer languages operate within a much more limited scope.

Various attempts to bring elements of natural language grammar into computer programming have produced programming languages such as HyperTalk, Lingo, AppleScript, SQL and Inform. A program written in these languages resembles pseudocode to some extent, and may roughly be understood by a person without knowledge about the language. However, this approach does not necesseraly make editing of the programs easier. The machine interpreters have just as low tolerance to alternative sentence structure, synonyms, etc, as in conventional programming languages.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • ter Meulen, Alice, 2001, "Logic and Natural Language," in Goble, Lou, ed., The Blackwell Guide to Philosophical Logic. naturel

de:Natürliche Sprache es:Lengua natural eo:Natura lingvo eu:Lengoaia natural fr:Langue naturelle ko:자연어 he:שפה טבעית sw:Lugha asilia hu:Természetes nyelv ja:自然言語 pl:Język naturalny pt:Línguas naturais ru:Естественный язык sr:Природни језици th:ภาษาธรรมชาติ zh:自然语言

Natural language

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