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Keywords:

  • Zipf's law;
  • Semantics;
  • Word frequency;
  • Word meaning;
  • Synonymy

Abstract

Zipf's law states that if words of language are ranked in the order of decreasing frequency in texts, the frequency of a word is inversely proportional to its rank. It is very reliably observed in the data, but to date it escaped satisfactory theoretical explanation. This article suggests that Zipf's law may result from a hierarchical organization of word meanings over the semantic space, which in turn is generated by the evolution of word semantics dominated by expansion of meanings and competition of synonyms. A study of the frequency of partial synonyms in Russian provides experimental evidence for the hypothesis that word frequency is determined by semantics.