Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Microbial Grammar

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this.
"“You have a string of letters and that string of letters reminds you immediately of a sentence, a kind of incomprehensible sentence, and you wonder in that sentence, 'Is that meaning hidden?''' asked Stephanopoulos. He used the example of a sentence: “Dave asks a question.'' What Stephanopoulos did was the equivalent of substitute different names for Dave and found that the peptide often still beat the bacteria."
The article describes this as grammar, but it sounds much more like cryptography to me. (Of course, I could be biased, as I've been watching the Channel 4 documentary series Station X the last few days, and have crypto on the brain.) I'm reminded, though, of the guy who ended up a codebreaker when he told government recruiters that he was an expert in cryptogams. Maybe they weren't too far off...

I almost posted about this, too! It reminds me of the classes I had on Universal Grammar, which I just never could get into, because, as you say, it's not what I think of as "grammar."

Fascinating, though. I was really intrigued by the story.
Language Log has a post on this story with some background that might make the grammar thing clearer, and explains the Nature paper better than the other articles I've seen. The author of the post doesn't think much of the AP article you linked to.

F. Dreier
Hey, thanks for the tip! I've already started reading through that post, and it is much more informative than what I'd seen on the subject before.
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