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Tony Marsh
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Learning Article : The Fractal Geometry Of Language

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The Fractal Geometry Of Language

Fractals are beautiful and have both finite and infinite characteristics. Let's see how the concept of fractal structures can be helpful for language learning.

Dec 3, 2014 12:00 AM
Comments · 15

Hogwash! I can't believe a read it all. I was hoping it would go somewhere and you failed me. Lured by Malachi Ray Rempen's pretty drawing...

December 11, 2014

Interesting - I'm fascinated with this topic, but it's tricky to explain in plain language.


I think the word you needed to use here is 'recursion'. Language is recursive in its structure. I'm not sure that it's fractal, which is a strictly mathematical idea. But it's definitely recursive. As in "I like coffee" which is contained within "I think I like coffee", which is contained in "I said I think I like coffee", and so on. Nesting, in other words.


But it's more subtle and roundabout than that too. "He saw the car" => "He saw the red car" => "He saw the red car I bought", etc.


I'm not sure that verbs are any more implicated in a fractal approach to language than any other category type; that's an interesting proposition. Any certainly, in highly-flexed languages, like Greek or Spanish, things are more fractal than their counterparts in, say, English and Chinese.

December 23, 2014

Interesting idea. I guess if African tribal lands can be fractal why not languages? The metaphor doesn't click with me so well as I'm no expert on fractals, but I bet if someone did know a lot about fractals, then such a metaphor could be fascinating and useful. Relating language with different constructs and metaphors that work for me in life in general has been useful. Thanks for offering up that metaphor for us to think about. 

December 14, 2014
Amazing observation. This is actually the same concept that I've been using. I start short then it grows longer, like "I want", "I want this, "I want a cup of coffee, "I want two cups of tea", "I want to drink a cup of coffee", etc.
July 31, 2017
You're definitely correct about the importance of mastering verbs. All too often I see beginner language learners trying to memorise vast lists of pretty useless substantives and neglecting the basic verbs that are at the heart of every language
May 1, 2018
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Tony Marsh
Language Skills
Arabic, English, Portuguese, Spanish
Learning Language