The Half-life of Words

The life & death of words. Fascinating that the half-life of words is becoming shorter.

Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death

Alexander M. Petersen, Joel Tenenbaum, Shlomo Havlin, H. Eugene Stanley

(Submitted on 19 Jul 2011)

How often a given word is used, relative to other words, can convey information about the word’s linguistic utility. Using Google word data for 3 languages over the 209-year period 1800-2008, we found by analyzing word use an anomalous recent change in the birth and death rates of words, which indicates a shift towards increased levels of competition between words as a result of new standardization technology. We demonstrate unexpected analogies between the growth dynamics of word use and the growth dynamics of economic institutions. Our results support the intriguing concept that a language’s lexicon is a generic arena for competition which evolves according to selection laws that are related to social, technological, and political trends. Specifically, the aggregate properties of language show pronounced differences during periods of world conflict, e.g. World War II.

via [1107.3707] Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death.

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  1. rcyran says:

    Somewhat related and worth a read (on half-lives of verbs and other topics)