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The Small-World of Human Language

  • Ramon Ferrer i Cancho
  • Ricard V. Solé
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    Words in human language interact within sentences in non-random ways, and allow humans to construct an astronomic variety of sentences from a limited number of discrete units. This construction process is extremely fast and robust. The coocurrence of words within sentences reflect language organization in a subttle manner which can be described in terms of a graph of word interactions. Here we show that such graph displays two important features recently found in a disparate number of complex systems: (a) The so called small world effect. In particular, the average distance between two words d (i.e. the average minimum number of jumps to be made from an arbitrary word to another) is shown to be d \approx 2-3, in spite that the human brain can store many thousands. (b) A scale-free distribution of degrees. The known dramatic effects of disconnecting the most connected vertices in such networks can be identified in some language disorders. These observations suggest some unexpected features of language organization that might reflect the evolutionary and social history of lexicons and the origins of their flexibility and combinatorial nature.

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    Paper provided by Santa Fe Institute in its series Working Papers with number 01-03-016.

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    Date of creation: Mar 2001
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    Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-03-016
    Contact details of provider: Postal: 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
    Web page: http://www.santafe.edu/sfi/publications/working-papers.html

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    1. Jose M. Montoya & Ricard V. Solé, 2000. "Small World Patterns in Food Webs," Working Papers 00-10-059, Santa Fe Institute.
    2. Ricard V. Solé & José M. Montoya, 2000. "Complexity and Fragility in Ecological Networks," Working Papers 00-11-060, Santa Fe Institute.
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