It is a difficult matter to settle upon a suitable idiom for an adequate description of language. It is one thing to insist that language should be regarded as a physical phenomenon. It is another to choose the physical vocabulary that is best suited to its description as such. As we have earlier remarked, the language in which philosophers speak of language can be ruled out for such a role. Terms such as meaning, intention, belief, desire, and so on, by general consent, do not refer to observables.
Instead, we consider many intuitive notions about words in physics that are observable terms, some of which can apply to language. The vocabulary of physics is defined by the mathematics of physical models, whose application to language is not apparent. In this case, the natural language correspondents do have familiar, intuitive, non-theoretical physical interpretations, and do seem to have applications to linguistic phenomena. Terms such as dispersion, elasticity, structure and dynamics, have a conversational use that is usually associated with spatial phenomena, occurrences that describe features of experience. Children dispersing in the courtyard, the elasticity of skin, the structure of a building, the dynamics of populations: all of these are familiar constructions, readily understood, at least for purposes of conversations but readily mathematizable without immediately obvious distortion.
These conversational uses are obvious in the examples that we have provided but their application to the description of language is more challenging. Somewhat less accessible are constructions such as the dispersion of (features of) a language, the elasticity of a vocable, morphological and syntactic structural changes in lexical vocabulary, dynamics of linguistic evolution. But they all have correspondents in the idiom of physics; that is, the vocabulary finds a more precise definition, as well as a mathematics, within the various theoretical languages of physics. Our question is: Setting aside its more casual uses, can any of the physical applications of such vocabulary add useful mathematical clarity to our understanding of linguistic evolution? Beyond that, can this detailed account reveal hitherto unacknowledged features of language?