• Open Access

The challenges of statistical patterns of language: The case of Menzerath's law in genomes

Authors

  • Ramon Ferrer-I-Cancho,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departament de Llenguatges i Sistemes Informàtics, Complexity and Quantitative Linguistics Lab, TALP Research Center/LARCA, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
    • Departament de Llenguatges i Sistemes Informàtics, Complexity and Quantitative Linguistics Lab, TALP Research Center, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Campus Nord, Edifici Omega, Jordi Girona Salgado 1-3, 08034 Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
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  • Núria Forns,

    1. Departament de Microbiologia, Facultat de Biologia
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  • Antoni Hernández-Fernández,

    1. Departament de Llenguatges i Sistemes Informàtics, Complexity and Quantitative Linguistics Lab, TALP Research Center/LARCA, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
    2. Departament de Lingüística General, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
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  • Gemma Bel-enguix,

    1. Laboratoire d'Informatique Fondamentale, University Aix-Marseille & CNRS, Marseille, France
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  • Jaume Baixeries

    1. Departament de Llenguatges i Sistemes Informàtics, Complexity and Quantitative Linguistics Lab, TALP Research Center/LARCA, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
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Abstract

The importance of statistical patterns of language has been debated over decades. Although Zipf's law is perhaps the most popular case, recently, Menzerath's law has begun to be involved. Menzerath's law manifests in language, music and genomes as a tendency of the mean size of the parts to decrease as the number of parts increases in many situations. This statistical regularity emerges also in the context of genomes, for instance, as a tendency of species with more chromosomes to have a smaller mean chromosome size. It has been argued that the instantiation of this law in genomes is not indicative of any parallel between language and genomes because (a) the law is inevitable and (b) noncoding DNA dominates genomes. Here mathematical, statistical, and conceptual challenges of these criticisms are discussed. Two major conclusions are drawn: the law is not inevitable and languages also have a correlate of noncoding DNA. However, the wide range of manifestations of the law in and outside genomes suggests that the striking similarities between noncoding DNA and certain linguistics units could be anecdotal for understanding the recurrence of that statistical law. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity, 2012

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