27 September 2006

Open Access to the Origins of Language

New Scientist reports:

Linguists are calling for an online public database, similar to the human genome project, that would allow researchers to collaboratively share different studies of language impairment.

By gathering together studies of developmental disorders that cause communication impairments – such as autism or Down’s syndrome – they hope to provide new clues about the origins of language.

Aside from the interesting nature of the project, what is striking is that the key element is not creating new knowledge, but consolidating it in a database, allowing higher-level knowledge to emerge. Clearly, for this to work in an optimal way, all the data and papers need to be open access. Whether it will be, assuming the project goes ahead, remains to be seen.

Update: Wow, the original article behind the NS story is not behind the usual paywall. So from this I can read:

We close by illustrating how systematic analyses within and between disorders, suitably informed by evolutionary theory—and ideally facilitated by the creation of an open-access database—could provide new insights into language evolution.

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