Thursday, 13 May 2010

E-Coli, Linux and Language

A recent post on The Loom looks at a paper by Koon-Kiu Yang et al. which compares the hierarchical structures of the operating system Linux and the bacterium E-Coli. Really interesting analysis - and a good discussion on the blog.

I found it interesting that E-coli's structure is primarily lower-level 'workhorses' with relatively few master controllers. Linux on the other hand has a much larger percentage of high-level 'master' and 'middle manager' modules and reletively few 'workhorses'. Linux is designed while E-coli is evolved.

I’m wondering how linguistic systems would fit into this schema. What are the ‘workhorses’ and ‘master regulators’ of language? There are many more ‘low-level’ words that refer to things than ‘higher level’ syntactic structures. This would make it like e-coli.

On the other hand, there are relatively few ‘low level’ phonemes and very many ‘high level’ concepts. This would make it more like Linux.

Maybe language has more ‘middle managers’ than anything else?

Answering this may give an insight into how ‘designed’ language is, as opposed to ‘evolved’.


Yan, K., Fang, G., Bhardwaj, N., Alexander, R., & Gerstein, M. (2010). Comparing genomes to computer operating systems in terms of the topology and evolution of their regulatory control networks Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914771107

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