1887
Volume 22, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
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Abstract

One striking commonality between languages is their Zipfian distributions: A power-law distribution of word frequency. This distribution is found across languages, speech genres, and within different parts of speech. The recurrence of such distributions is thought to reflect cognitive and/or communicative pressures and to facilitate language learning. However, research on Zipfian distributions has mostly been limited to spoken languages. In this study, we ask whether Zipfian distributions are also found across signed languages, as expected if they reflect a universal property of human language. We find that sign frequencies and ranks in three sign language corpora (BSL, DGS and NGT) show a Zipfian relationship, similar to that found in spoken languages. These findings highlight the commonalities between spoken and signed languages, add to our understanding of the use of signs, and show the prevalence of Zipfian distributions across language modalities, supporting the idea that they facilitate language learning and communication.

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/content/journals/10.1075/gest.23014.kim
2024-04-02
2024-04-18
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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): sign language; universal properties of language; Zipfian distributions
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