Sometime around 1970 John B. Eulenberg came from Stanford to direct Michigan State’s Artificial Language Lab, where I would come to spend many interesting hours hanging out all through the 70s and 80s. Along with its research program the lab did a lot of work on augmentative communication technology for limited mobility users and the observations I made there prompted the first inklings of my Learner program.
Early in that period I visited John’s course in mathematical linguistics, which featured Laws of Form among its readings, along with the more standard fare of Wall, Chomsky, Jackendoff, and the Unified Science volume by Charles Morris which credited Peirce with pioneering the pragmatic theory of signs. I learned about Zipf’s Law relating the lengths of codes to their usage frequencies and I named the earliest avatar of my Learner program XyPh, partly after Zipf and playing on the xylem and phloem of its tree data structures.
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