Language Zipf Mystery


The second most used word of a language appears half as often as the first word.
The third most used word of a language appears a third as often as the second word.
So on…

The frequency of use can therefore be deduced from its position in relationship to the most used word.


“Zipf’s law was originally formulated in terms of quantitative linguistics, stating that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc. For example, in the Brown Corpus of American English text, the word “the” is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf’s Law, the second-place word “of” accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by “and” (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.[1]”

The question remains why that is.

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