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Decoding the dictionary: Study suggests lexicon evolved to fit in the brain
Date:4/30/2008

or via cultural selection over time so as to minimize their demands on the brain, Changizi said.

By conducting a series of calculations based on the estimation that the most complex words in the dictionary total around 100,000 different terms, and that the number of atomic words range from 10 to 60, Changizi was able to devise three signature features present in the most efficient dictionaries as well as in their human counterpart, the brain.

Most importantly, he discovered that the total number of words across all the definitions in the dictionary (and thus the size of the dictionary) changes in relation to the total number of hierarchical levels present. Optimal dictionaries should have approximately seven hierarchical levels, according to Changizi.

The presence of around seven levels of definition will reduce the overall size of the dictionary, so that it is about 30 percent of the size it would be if there were only two hierarchical levels, Changizi said.

Additionally, users will find that there are progressively more words at each successive hierarchical level, and that each hierarchical level contributes mostly to the definitions of the words just one level above their own, according to Changizi, who put his three predictions to the test by studying actual dictionaries.

The Oxford English Dictionary and WordNet a large, online lexical database of English, developed at Princeton University were found to possess all three signatures of an economically organized dictionary, and thus were organized in such a way as to economize the amount of dictionary space required to define the lexicon, according to Changizi.

Somehow, over centuries, these revered reference books have achieved near-optimal organization, Changizi said. That optimality can likely be attributed to the fact that cultural selection pressures over time have shaped the organization of our lexicon so as to require as little mental space and en
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Contact: Amber Cleveland
clevea@rpi.edu
518-276-2146
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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