Photo by @davidboca

Artificial Language and Natural Language

An opposition within natural language processing

Since I have been writing about natural language for a few days I thought it was about time to address: why natural? I found there was an opposition in the ‘artificial’.

Artificial language are the result of (distributed) conventionalisation processes, much like natural languages (spoken by humans).

Natural language can be called ordinary language.

Artificial languages emerge either in computer simulations between artificial agents, robot interactions or controlled psychological experiments with humans.

It is said in this description that these are different from ‘constructed languages’ and ‘formal languages’ supposedly because they have not been consciously devised by an individual or group.

→ Did human language emerge just as much as ‘artificial language’?

… Or is it different?

Opposed to the idea of a central designer, the field of artificial language evolution in which artificial languages are studied can be regarded as a sub-part of the more general cultural evolution studies.

Initially it was aimed at: “…the development of a rational language free from inconsistence of living language and based on classification of concepts. The material of living languages also appears later.”

There is an hypothesis that natural language is a complex adaptive system:

“…emerges through interactions between individuals and continues to evolve in order to remain adapted to the needs and capabilities of its users.”

Take programming languages.

Yes, they may be ‘artificial’ constructs.

Do they differ from languages that have evolved through usage?

Considering all the updates to programming languages and amendments as well as the independent libraries that are developed…

So they do develop or ‘evolve’.

It is said that a programming language can be fully described and studied in its entirety, since it has a precise and finite definition.

Yet, that is not entirely true.

Take the programming language Arc, a dialect of Lisp.

Due to lack of updates in the official Arc branch, some members of the Arc community started their own repositories with unofficial modifications, extensions, and libraries. One version, Anarki, permitted anyone to submit changes to the project and has a community managed wiki.

→ So, is it a fair contrast?

If we were to contrast natural languages one could argue they have changing meanings. This is more to the point.

While constructed languages are also artificial languages designed from the ground up with a specific purpose, they lack the precise and complete semantic definition that a programming language has.

First I thought the distinction could be question, and to some extent I was right. Still, there are clear differences between artificial and natural languages, but clearly there is room for more nuanced discussions.

What do you think?

Is ‘Artificial Language’ and ‘Natural Language’ a good distinction?

Can it create an artificial divide between languages that intertwine, change and develop together?

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 426. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own.