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International Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

Ed. by Roelcke, Thorsten / Kelih, Emmerich / Köhler, Reinhard

Editorial Board: Altmann, Gabriel / Andreev, Sergey / Bär, Jochen A. / Embleton, Sheila / Gries, Stefan Th. / Grzybek, Peter / Leiss, Elisabeth / Liu, Haitao / Macutek, Ján / Bruch Nemcová, Emilia / Patrás, Vladimír / Sanada, Haruko / Wilson, Andrew

CiteScore 2018: 0.19

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.113
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.674

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The Failure of the Law of Brevity in Two New World Primates. Statistical Caveats.

Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho
  • Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Departament de Llenguatges i Sistemes Informàtics, Barcelona, Spanien
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Antoni Hernández-Fernández


Parallels of Zipf’s law of brevity, the tendency of more frequent words to be shorter, have been found in bottlenose dolphins and Formosan macaques. Although these findings suggest that behavioral repertoires are shaped by a general principle of compression, common marmosets and golden-backed uakaris do not exhibit the law. However, we argue that the law may be impossible or difficult to detect statistically in a given species if the repertoire is too small, a problem that could be affecting golden backed uakaris, and show that the law is present in a subset of the repertoire of common marmosets. We suggest that the visibility of the law will depend on the subset of the repertoire under consideration or the repertoire size.

Keywords: Zipf’s law; law of brevity; frequency-length correlation; minimum repertoire size; animal behavior research

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Published in Print: 2013-04-01

Citation Information: Glottotheory International Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 45–55, ISSN (Print) 1337-7892, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/glot.2013.0004.

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