Did you know that bubbles can tell you a lot about the emergence of language patterns? That’s right, Dr. James Burridge from the University of Portsmouth has stumbled upon a theory about the emergence of language dialects that is centered on bubble physicals.
Burridge said, “If you want to know where you’ll find dialects and why, a lot can be predicted from the physics of bubbles and our tendency to copy others around us. Copying causes large dialect regions where one way of speaking dominates. Where dialect regions meet, you get surface tension. Surface tension causes oil and water to separate out into layers, and also causes small bubbles in a bubble bath to merge into bigger ones. The bubbles in the bath are like groups of people — they merge into the bigger bubbles because they want to fit in with their neighbours. When people speak and listen to each other, they have a tendency to conform to the patterns of speech they hear others using, and therefore align their dialects. Since people typically remain geographically local in their everyday lives, they tend to align with those nearby.”
This theory could lead dialectologists to better understand how dialects emerge and even help predict where dialects may be headed in the future. The cross-discipline nature of the theory, combining physicals with mathematics and linguistics also hints at the inter-connectivity of seemingly different systems, be they bubbles or language patterns.
Dr Burridge added, “These isoglosses (line on a map connoting clear linguistic divide) are like the edges of bubbles — the maths used to describe bubbles can also describe dialects. My model shows that dialects tend to move outwards from population centres, which explains why cities have their own dialects. Big cities like London and Birmingham are pushing on the walls of their own bubbles. This is why many dialects have a big city at their heart — the bigger the city, the greater this effect. It’s also why new ways of speaking often spread outwards from a large urban centre.”