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Greater Early Disambiguating Information for Less-Probable Words: The Lexicon Is Shaped by Incremental Processing

Greater Early Disambiguating Information for Less-Probable Words: The Lexicon Is Shaped by... There has been much work over the last century on optimization of the lexicon for efficient communication, with a particular focus on the form of words as an evolving balance between production ease and communicative accuracy. Zipf’s law of abbreviation, the cross-linguistic trend for less-probable words to be longer, represents some of the strongest evidence the lexicon is shaped by a pressure for communicative efficiency. However, the various sounds that make up words do not all contribute the same amount of disambiguating information to a listener. Rather, the information a sound contributes depends in part on what specific lexical competitors exist in the lexicon. In addition, because the speech stream is perceived incrementally, early sounds in a word contribute on average more information than later sounds. Using a dataset of diverse languages, we demonstrate that, above and beyond containing more sounds, less-probable words contain sounds that convey more disambiguating information overall. We show further that this pattern tends to be strongest at word-beginnings, where sounds can contribute the most information. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Open Mind MIT Press

Greater Early Disambiguating Information for Less-Probable Words: The Lexicon Is Shaped by Incremental Processing

Open Mind , Volume 4: 12 – Mar 31, 2020

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References (135)

Publisher
MIT Press
Copyright
Copyright © MIT Press
eISSN
2470-2986
DOI
10.1162/opmi_a_00030
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

There has been much work over the last century on optimization of the lexicon for efficient communication, with a particular focus on the form of words as an evolving balance between production ease and communicative accuracy. Zipf’s law of abbreviation, the cross-linguistic trend for less-probable words to be longer, represents some of the strongest evidence the lexicon is shaped by a pressure for communicative efficiency. However, the various sounds that make up words do not all contribute the same amount of disambiguating information to a listener. Rather, the information a sound contributes depends in part on what specific lexical competitors exist in the lexicon. In addition, because the speech stream is perceived incrementally, early sounds in a word contribute on average more information than later sounds. Using a dataset of diverse languages, we demonstrate that, above and beyond containing more sounds, less-probable words contain sounds that convey more disambiguating information overall. We show further that this pattern tends to be strongest at word-beginnings, where sounds can contribute the most information.

Journal

Open MindMIT Press

Published: Mar 31, 2020

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