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Why Context Matters in the Long and Short of Words

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Horizontal and vertical words in red, blue and green.

In 1935, Harvard University linguist George Kingsley Zipf asserted that "the magnitude of words tends, on the whole, to stand in an inverse, not necessarily proportionate, relationship to the number of occurrences." In other words, short words are used more frequently than long ones. Now, cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated a substantial improvement to Zipf's law.

Credit: Adrian Apodaca, National Science Foundation

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