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Zipf !. Some talking points Questions? Complaints? TylerS at Stanford dot edu. The Principle of Least Effort.

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Some talking points

Questions? Complaints?

TylerS at Stanford dot edu

the principle of least effort
The Principle of Least Effort
  • A person solving his immediate problems will view these against the background of his probable future problems, as estimated by himself…the person will strive to minimize the probable average rate of his work-expenditure (over time).
the singleness of the superlative
The singleness of the superlative
  • If the problem has more than one superlative, the problem itself becomes completely meaningless and indeterminate.
  • Example: If there’s a mountain range between your home and your destination, you choose different routes if you want:
    • The least work (winding through the range, a long time)
    • The least distance (build a tunnel, great amount of work)
    • The least time (over the tops with risk and labor)
seems parallel a bit to occam s razor
Seems parallel a bit to Occam’s razor
  • We have to think about this in terms of conscious vs unconscious choices
  • And we need to have a rather broad concept of “simplicity”
words as a set of tools
Words as a set of tools
  • “Man talks in order to get something.”
    • Zipf Pg 19, not necessarily ALWAYS this
  • “Words are tools that are used to convey meanings in order to achieve objectives.”
    • Zipf pg 20
  • Words seem to be little containers that are combined to make meaning. There are more and less economical ways to combine words with meaning.
    • For a speaker, best if there’s just one word that means everything.
    • But that’s the acme of verbal labor for the auditor
    • So Zipf is putting these into conflict (the force of unification vs. the force of diversification)
audience design
Audience design?
  • The main resource here is Bell (1984), “one of the best sociolg articles ever written”
    • Style derives its meaning from the association of linguistic features with particular social groups.
    • Speakers design their style primarily for and in response to their audience.
  • But audience-design often has problems with “initiative” style shifts—it can deal well with responsive shifts, but what about the sudden (creative) shift?
    • And when it is responsive, what is it we're responding to? How are we interpreting our audience and what's the effect of the audience on other things we're doing?
  • Biber shows that more common ground gets you more omission
over and over and over
Over and over and over
  • High frequency, small variety, shortness in length
    • Syllables in German speech
    • Morphemes in Chinese speech
    • Syllables in Plautine Latin (written) corpus of plays
    • Phonemes in an American newspaper (English)
towards a law of abbreviation
Towards a law of abbreviation
  • Frequency decreases the length of words
  • Homonyms aren’t really a problem
  • The speech community is crucial.
  • “Longer words…such as constitutionality, quintessentially, idiosyncrasy are not truncated because they are not frequently used.” (pg 30)
    • But not the only explanation—concept complexity?
  • And this is sort of where he goes in his section about substitutions
    • Taters/spuds,
    • Strike-with-chin vs. strike-with-foot (kick)
    • ‘Brother’ vs. uncle’s second wife’s tenth child by her first marriage
    • “It” also counts, though a bit differently.
last bit
Last bit
  • Knocks out Greek and Latin affixes that Germans are “probably unaware of”. Note that Jen Hay has a way of looking at these.
  • Generally, frequent morphemes are shorter.
  • “Let us assume…that the magnitude of complexity depends upon relative frequency of occurrence” (176).
  • Pg 4: Is it really so odd if our superlatives change and/or are different than our neighbors’? Seems to be only biologically based.
  • Pg 19: What are biosocial dynamics?
second reading questions
Second reading questions
  • Pg 21: Do longer permutations offer more opportunities of good combinations and unpronounceable ones both?