Word Forms Are Structured for Efficient Use
Author(s)Mahowald, Kyle Adam; Dautriche, Isabelle; Gibson, Edward A; Piantadosi, Steven T.
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Zipf famously stated that, if natural language lexicons are structured for efficient communication, the words that are used the most frequently should require the least effort. This observation explains the famous finding that the most frequent words in a language tend to be short. A related prediction is that, even within words of the same length, the most frequent word forms should be the ones that are easiest to produce and understand. Using orthographics as a proxy for phonetics, we test this hypothesis using corpora of 96 languages from Wikipedia. We find that, across a variety of languages and language families and controlling for length, the most frequent forms in a language tend to be more orthographically well‐formed and have more orthographic neighbors than less frequent forms. We interpret this result as evidence that lexicons are structured by language usage pressures to facilitate efficient communication. Keywords: Lexicon; Word frequency; Phonology; Communication; Efficiency
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal
Mahowald, Kyle et al. "Word Forms Are Structured for Efficient Use." Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal 42, 8 (November 2018): 3116-3134 © 2018 Cognitive Science Society
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