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Linguistic Mapping Reveals How Word Meanings Sometimes Change Overnight

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Mapping how language changes.

A Stony Brook University researcher and his colleagues map the linguistic vector space of words.

Credit: Technology Review

To track how language evolves, Stony Brook University researcher Vivek Kulkarni and colleagues map the linguistic vector space of words. By examining the linguistic space at different points in time, it is possible to see how meanings have changed.

The researchers use three different databases to see how words have changed: a set of five-word sequences that appear in the Google Books corpus, Amazon movie reviews since 2000, and messages posted on Twitter between September 2011 and October 2013. The results reveal which words have changed in meaning as well as when the change occurred and how rapidly.

Prior to the 1970s, for example, the word "tape" was used almost exclusively to describe adhesive tape, but subsequently gained a second meaning of "cassette tape." Kulkarni and his team have observed similar, more recent trends on Twitter and Amazon with changes in the usages of words such as "candy" and "streaming" as a result of the popular Candy Crush Saga game and the phenomenon of video streaming.

"This effect is especially prevalent on the Internet, where the rapid exchange of ideas can change a word's meaning overnight," the researchers note.

They say their research could be useful for building language processing machines that are better able to understand current terminology.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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