Zipf's Law and Avoidance of Excessive Synonymy
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2010
2008 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 32, Issue 7, pages 1075–1098, October-November 2008
How to Cite
Manin, D. Y. (2008), Zipf's Law and Avoidance of Excessive Synonymy. Cognitive Science, 32: 1075–1098. doi: 10.1080/03640210802020003
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2010
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2010
- Received 23 September 2007; accepted 26 February 2008; received in revised form 21 February 2008
- Zipf's law;
- Word frequency;
- Word meaning;
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.