Linguistic laws in biology

Stuart Semple, Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Morgan L. Gustison

Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Linguistic laws, the common statistical patterns of human language, have been investigated by quantitative linguists for nearly a century. Recently, biologists from a range of disciplines have started to explore the prevalence of these laws beyond language, finding patterns consistent with linguistic laws across multiple levels of biological organisation, from molecular (genomes, genes, and proteins) to organismal (animal behaviour) to ecological (populations and ecosystems). We propose a new conceptual framework for the study of linguistic laws in biology, comprising and integrating distinct levels of analysis, from description to prediction to theory building. Adopting this framework will provide critical new insights into the fundamental rules of organisation underpinning natural systems, unifying linguistic laws and core theory in biology.

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