What was that again? A mathematical model of language incorporates the need for repetition

Aug 29, 2011

As politicians know, repetition is often key to getting your message across. Now a former physicist studying linguistics at the Polish Academy of Sciences has taken this intuitive concept and incorporated it into a mathematical model of human communication.

In a paper in the AIP's journal , Łukasz Dębowski mathematically explores the idea that as humans we often repeat ourselves in an effort to get the story to stick. Using statistical observations about the frequency and patterns of word choice in natural language, Dębowski develops a model that shows repetitive patterns emerging in large chunks of speech.

Previous researchers have noted that long texts have more entropy, or uncertainty, than very brief statements. This tendency to higher entropy would seem to suggest that only through brevity could humans hope to build understanding – uttering short sentences that won't confuse listeners with too much information. But as long texts continue to get longer, the increase in the entropy starts to level off. Dębowski connects this power-law growth of entropy to a similar power-law growth in the number of distinct words used in a text. The two concepts – entropy and vocabulary size – can be related by the idea that humans describe a random world, but in a highly repetitive way.

Dębowski shows this by examining a block of text as a dynamic system that moves from randomness toward order through a series of repetitive steps. He theorizes that if a text describes a given number of independent facts in a repetitive way then it must contain at least the same number of distinct words that occur in a related repetitive fashion. What this reveals is that language may be viewed as a system that fights a natural increase in by slowly constructing a framework of repetitive words that enable humans to better grasp its meaning. For now the research is theoretical, but future work could experimentally test how closely it describes real texts, and maybe even candidates' stump speeches.

Explore further: Local education politics 'far from dead'

More information: "Excess entropy in natural language: present state and perspectives" by Lukasz Dębowski is accepted for publication in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science.

Provided by American Institute of Physics

4.3 /5 (4 votes)

Related Stories

Sign language puzzle solved

Dec 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have known for 40 years that even though it takes longer to use sign language to sign individual words, sentences can be signed, on average, in the same time it takes to say them, ...

Holographic dark information energy

May 30, 2011

Holographic Dark Information Energy gets my vote for the best mix of arcane theoretical concepts expressed in the shortest number of words – and just to keep it interesting, it’s mostly about entropy.

Linguists to re-think reason for short words

Jan 25, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Linguists have thought for many years the length of words is related to the frequency of use, with short words used more often than long ones. Now researchers in the US have shown the length is more closely ...

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

20 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

20 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

21 hours ago

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

23 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

23 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
No. The meanings of words change with use.
Repetition can not prevent the change of the meanings of words repeated.
"Independent" facts are nonexistent.

What this reveals is that language may be viewed as a system that encourages "a natural increase in entropy" by slowly constructing a framework of non-replicable meaning for words.

A repeated word's meaning increases with use.
A new unique, and independent meaning is created each time the word is repeated.

What "moves from randomness toward order" is the AGREEMENT IN UNDERSTANDING that any NEW meaning a word acquires by use (repetition) is MEANINGLESS. To render any event or object psychologically, physically, biologically and chemically meaningless is impossible. So the will to ignore unavoidable and inevitable new meaning is invoke - stunting potential growth of understanding by agreement.

The human will to discard or accept this agreement determines the language's entropy. The choice between a static and dynamic system.
not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
New words are created to facilitate understanding.
Repeated words are used to limit understanding.