LINGUISTICS

Tracking expanding dimensions of words

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Science  16 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6381, pp. 1228-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6381.1228-d

Language can evolve by adding new meanings or “senses” to old words. Thus, the word “face” can refer to the body part or the front surface of a cliff. There are several theories regarding how new senses of words arise historically. Ramiro et al. used an algorithmic approach to study 5000 English words taken from a digital historical dictionary that covers word usage from Anglo-Saxon times to the present. They found that one model—nearest-neighbor chaining—predominates, possibly because it minimizes the cognitive costs of communicating new ideas.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1714730115 (2018).

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