Analogy between language and biology - A functional approach

Abstract : We adopt here a functional approach to the classical comparison between language and biology. We first parallel events which have a functional signification in each domain, by matching the utterance of a sentence with the release of a protein. The meaning of a protein is then defined by analogy as “the constant contribution of the biochemical material composing the protein to the effects produced by any release of the protein”. The proteome of an organism corresponds to an I-language (the idiolect of an individual), and the proteome of a species is equivalent to an E-language (a language in the common sense).
Proteins and sentences are both characterized by a complex hierarchical structure, but the language property of ‘double articulation' has no equivalent in the biological domain in this analogy, contrary to previous proposals centred on the genetic code. Besides, the same intimate relation between structure and meaning holds in both cases (syntactic structure for sentences and three-dimensional conformation for proteins). An important disanalogy comes from the combinatorial power of language which is not shared by the proteome as a whole, but it must be noted that the immune system possesses interesting properties in this respect.
Regarding evolutionary aspects, the analogy still works to a certain extent. Languages and proteomes can be both considered as belonging to a general class of systems, that we call “productive self-reproductive systems”, characterized by the presence of two dynamics: a fast dynamics in an external domain where functional events occur (productive aspect), and a slow dynamics responsible for the evolution of the system itself, driven by the feed-back of events related to the reproduction process.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00137870
Contributor : Bernard Victorri <>
Submitted on : Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 1:04:11 PM
Last modification on : Friday, January 4, 2019 - 5:33:04 PM
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Bernard Victorri. Analogy between language and biology - A functional approach. Cognitive Processing, Springer Verlag, 2007, 8 (1), pp.11-19. 〈halshs-00137870〉

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