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Key takeaways

There are various laws of linguistics; for example, famous words are shorter than less popular words.

These laws apply not only to human language but also to animal communication.

But the most surprising thing is that these rules appear almost everywhere, from species distribution and size to disease outbreaks, to protein structure.


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Linguists have long known that human speech seems to be governed

Linguists have long known that human speech seems to be governed

For example, shorter words are used in different languages more often than longer ones. Biologists have noticed this, and many have wondered whether these linguistic laws apply to biological phenomena. Indeed, a new review published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution discusses their findings in detail.


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Formula 1: twice the size of the nearest rival

Formula 1: twice the size of the nearest rival

The first linguistic rule concerns the frequency of a language's most frequently used words. This is known as Zipf's rank-frequency law and holds that the relative frequency of a word is inversely proportional to its frequency rank. In other words, the most frequently used word will be twice as often as the second most commonly used word, three times as often as the third most frequently used word, and so on. For example, the most common word in English is seven percent of all the words we use. The next most common is about 3.5 percent.


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Pattern 2: more minor things are more common

Pattern 2: more minor things are more common

The second linguistic rule we can apply to life is Zipf's law of abbreviation, which describes the tendency for more commonly used words to become shorter. This applies to hundreds of different and unrelated languages, including sign language. In English, the seven most common words are three letters or less, and there are only two words in the top 100 (people and therefore) that have more than five letters. The words we use most often are short and to the point.


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This is also a law evident throughout nature

This is also a law evident throughout nature

Communication between birds and mammals tends to be short. Indeed, it can be seen in the songs of black-headed tits, the duration of the calls of Formosa macaws, the vocalizations of the indri, the timing of chimpanzees' gestures, and the length of surface behavioral patterns in dolphins. Humans are not the only ones who want their language to be effective.


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Part 3: the longer something is, the shorter its composite parts

Part 3: the longer something is, the shorter its composite parts

Take a sentence such as this one, with all its words, long and short, joined together, punctuated by commas, sunk into each other to reach the final (and breathtaking) finale. It should be noted that although a sentence is long, it is divided into relatively small sentences. This is known as Menzerath's law, in which there is a negative relationship between the size of the whole and the size of the parts. This can be seen not only in sentence construction; the law applies to short phonemes and syllables found in long words.


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Linguistic laws in biology and beyond

Linguistic laws in biology and beyond

Although the article focuses mainly on these three laws, it points to others that can still be found (those that are so far under-researched and understudied). For example, Herdan's law (the correlation between the number of unique words and text length) is evident in the proteomes of many organisms, and Zipf's law of meaning frequency (in which more common words have more meanings) is evident in primates. Gestures.


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The sheer scale of application and versatility of these laws is remarkable. The laws discovered in linguistics have applications in ecology, microbiology, epidemiology, demography, and geography.


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