July 24 (UPI) -- In an effort to understand how and where language dialects form through history, one scientist has looked to inspiration from an unlikely source -- bubbles.
"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," James Burridge, researcher at the University of Portsmouth, said in a news release.
Our tendency to copy ensures dialects tend to form and spread across large regions. People, when speaking and listening to one another, tend to alter their speech patterns to align with the group.
"Where dialect regions meet, you get surface tension," Burridge said. "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."
Burridge used these basic bubbles-inspired tenets to develop a formula for predicting dialect formation based on country size, shape and population distribution.
"My model shows that dialects tend to move outwards from population centers, which explains why cities have their own dialects," Burridge said.
The model also showed language boundaries tend to straighten and smooth over time, as speakers conform to the influence of one dialect over another.
Burridge published his theories of dialectic evolution this week in the journal Physical Review X.