Identifying Trends in Word Frequency Dynamics
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- Altmann, E.G., Whichard, Z.L. & Motter, A.E. J Stat Phys (2013) 151: 277. doi:10.1007/s10955-013-0699-7
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The word-stock of a language is a complex dynamical system in which words can be created, evolve, and become extinct. Even more dynamic are the short-term fluctuations in word usage by individuals in a population. Building on the recent demonstration that word niche is a strong determinant of future rise or fall in word frequency, here we introduce a model that allows us to distinguish persistent from temporary increases in frequency. Our model is illustrated using a 108-word database from an online discussion group and a 1011-word collection of digitized books. The model reveals a strong relation between changes in word dissemination and changes in frequency. Aside from their implications for short-term word frequency dynamics, these observations are potentially important for language evolution as new words must survive in the short term in order to survive in the long term.