When iconicity stands in the way of abbreviation: No Zipfian effect for figurative signals

  title={When iconicity stands in the way of abbreviation: No Zipfian effect for figurative signals},
  author={Helena Miton and Olivier Morin},
  journal={PLoS ONE},
Zipf’s law of abbreviation, relating more frequent signals to shorter signal lengths, applies to sounds in a variety of communication systems, both human and non-human. It also applies to writing systems: more frequent words tend to be encoded by less complex graphemes, even when grapheme complexity is decoupled from word length. This study documents an exception to this law of abbreviation. Observing European heraldic motifs, whose frequency of use was documented for the whole continent and… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

The Predictable Evolution of Letter Shapes

A familiar story about the evolution of alphabets is that individual letters originated in iconic representations of real things. Over time, these naturalistic pictures became simplified into

Linguistic laws are not the law in chimpanzee sexual solicitation gestures

Ape gesture does not appear to manifest a principle of compression or pressure for efficiency that has been previously proposed to be universal, and the same signals were shown to adhere to these laws when used in a different behavioural context; highlighting that signallers consider signalling efficiency broadly, and diverse factors play important roles in shaping investment in signal production.

Optimal Coding and the Origins of Zipfian Laws

The problem of optimal coding under so-called non-singular coding is considered and it is shown that it predicts Zipf’s law of abbreviation, namely a tendency in natural languages for more frequent words to be shorter.

Graphic complexity in writing systems

Entropy trade-offs in artistic design: A case study of Tamil kolam

Abstract Abstract From an evolutionary perspective, art presents many puzzles. Humans invest substantial effort in generating apparently useless displays that include artworks. These vary greatly

Linguistic laws in biology.

Faculty members who engage in inclusive pedagogy: methodological and affective strategies for teaching

ABSTRACT In this article, 119 faculty members from 10 Spanish universities who engage in inclusive pedagogy reveal some of the methodological and affective strategies they use to motivate their

Carbon budgets for soil and plants respond to long-term warming in an Alaskan boreal forest

The potential consequences of global warming for ecosystem carbon stocks are a major concern, particularly in high-latitude regions where soil carbon pools are especially large. Research on soil and



Word Length and Word Frequency

Since the appearance of Zipf’s works, his hypothesis “that the magnitude of words tends, on the whole, to stand in an inverse (not necessarily proportionate) relationship to the number of occurrences” has been generally accepted.

Zipf's law of abbreviation as a language universal

It is argued that this universal trend of words that are used more frequently tend to be shorter is likely to derive from fundamental principles of information processing and transfer.

Word length, sentence length and frequency: Zipf revisited

This paper examines data from English, Swedish and German in order to find a theoretical distribution that describes the observed relation between word length and frequency. In Swedish and English,

Reexamining the word length effect in visual word recognition: New evidence from the English Lexicon Project

The effect of word length (number of letters in a word) on lexical decision was reexamined using the English Lexicon Project and an unexpected pattern of results taking the form of a U-shaped curve was revealed.

Iconicity of simple Chinese characters

The proportion of correct responses to each character can be taken as an indicator of its degree of iconicity, which should be useful to researchers studying Chinese character reading and writing.

Informativity and the actuation of lenition

What causes Indonesian to lenite word-final /k/, American English to lenite word-final /t/, and Spanish to lenite word-final /s/? This article shows that all three observed lenition patterns can be

Contributions to the science of text and language : word length studies and related issues

This chapter discusses the history and methodology of Word Length Studies, as well as the development of the Croatian National Corpus and Beyond, and some of the Typology of Slavic Languages.

Word lengths are optimized for efficient communication

It is shown across 10 languages that average information content is a much better predictor of word length than frequency, which indicates that human lexicons are efficiently structured for communication by taking into account interword statistical dependencies.

Writing, Graphic Codes, and Asynchronous Communication

It is argued that this capacity to communicate asynchronously is a rarity in non-literate societies, and not so frequent even in literate ones, which implies that writing cannot have evolved, at first, for supporting asynchronous communication.