WIT Press

Fractals as a metaphor in dialectology


Free (open access)


Volume 12 (2017), Issue 3



Page Range

385 - 395

Paper DOI



WIT Press




This article connects two science fields: one that belongs to the exact sciences (mainly math- ematics), and the other–to linguistics, which belongs to the humanities. Linguistics is considered here as a phenomenon of nature. The main argument is that the way languages and dialects develop is similar to the behavior of random fractals in nature. Thus, the term ‘fractals’ and some of their features are compared to languages and their development. A basic organizing principle of fractals is self-similarity: fractals maintain their form regardless of the scale used. However, more details are revealed as the size scale changes and diminishes or grows. Fractals have a geometric shape that can be subdivided into parts, and each can be at least approximately a reduced-size copy of the whole. Such fluctuations are a kind of noise, which has been described as the essence of life, being random, uncertain and non-deterministic. The variety of noise spectra is defined by groups of features, specific signals and combinations of noise types. In languages, there are also basic structures, which develop into longer chains of utterances. These utterances can recur repetitively until some end, e.g. from speech sounds to words, and from them to phrases, sentences and whole texts. Another aspect of languages is that they have dialects. Their structures derive from a common core and acquire differences in time and space among dialects, in similar but variegated fashions. This comparison of fractals and languages/dialects reveals interesting similarities and differences. Examples are mainly taken from Arabic dialects.


Arabic dialects, dialects, fractals, language.