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  Small word world [ 06.07.2002 ]
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The world is small. That applies obviously not only to acquaintances, but also to words.
Web on the left of
Small world problem
Moby thesaurus II (ZIP, 9.4 MT)

Geschaeftiges rattling in the editorship: Speedy hands work on the keyboards and draw from them a more or less regular rhythm. Suddenly a hand's pair from the concert says good-bye and stops. Some seconds later the question schallt by the office: "does someone have times another word for ' hollow '?" The other hands remain in their activity - one second, two seconds - "as would be it with ' pit '?", the answer finally comes from the other corner. "' I already wrote. Thanks, I schau times in the synonym dictionary after."

But all the suggestions with "hollow" do not want to fit so correctly, thus fast still with "pit" checked: "mine" and "mine" stand here as option - well, does not fit now really. It is already amusing, on which words one comes, if one searches on the basis of a certain term for synonyms or sense relative. Scientists examined these word relations somewhat more exactly now and found out amazing: Because at least in the English language two arbitrary standard Vokabeln can be interconnected by three terms of similar meaning.

To this result came Adilson Motter of the Arizona State University into Tempe and its colleagues, when they examined the linkages of the freely available Moby Thesaurus II. The dictionary covers 30 000 of entries, whereby on average one hundred related terms are assigned to everyone. The scientists were however exclusively limited with their analysis to certain nouns, which are linguistically common. From them they built for network from related words, whereby each knot (a term) was connected with approximately 60 other knots.

So the terms do not have "actors" and "universe in common" much at first sight with one another - on second however already. Because the two words can be actually interconnected on the basis the Moby Thesaurus II by a short way: The first station of the journey leads of actor (actors) to the character (a character). Under the synonymous terms to character then also nature ( nature, nature, a character) is, where then finally also the reference stands on university verses. Everything only coincidence? Not at all, according to Motter applies to arbitrary pairs of words - presupposed, it concerns common terms.

Thus thus also the words of a language form a miniature world network in such a way specified. Something similar observed scientist already with acquaintance degrees of humans. So allegedly each ground connection citizen is to be by six stations connected with any other person. Also another characteristic of these small world systems can be observed with a language: Because two terms are linked over their meaning with third, then also the probability is large that the two first maintain a connection to each other - a grouping thus.

Like that the word nature is specified both under university verses in addition, under world, and also the last two terms refer mutually to itself. That comes not from approximate, assumes the researchers. Because we finally remember things also in associative way, whereby similar experiences are grouped - at least it falls us so usually clearly more easily to out-dig memories. There it appears only logically that a completely similar grouping plays a role also in the language, since we here also constantly look for the correct words.

The fact that thereby as apparently different terms are as actors and universe only a few words from each other distant facilitates the mental search uncommonly, assumes Motter and its team. Because we would find so independently of the starting point fast the correct terms. If one believes this argumentation, then the today's structure of languages developed only in such a way, since it is to be used most simply. And words would have attained so many meanings, because from it a closely linked network results and is small the distance from individual terms.

"lower", sound it in the back from the room. "the term fits." The human thesaurus is stop still the best - also, if it lasts sometimes somewhat longer. But it finally applies to pursue also innumerable semantic paths in the spirit - always on the search for the correct word.

Thorsten Krome
© science-on-line
Nature Science update
Physical Review E 65: 065102 (2002), Abstract
Further messages to the topic
The world is nevertheless small
Oldest proof for the Scandinavian influence on the English language
Further one left to the topic
Arizona State University, department OF Mathematics

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