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Volume 54, Issue 6 (Nov 2016)


Attraction between words as a function of frequency and representational distance: Words in the bilingual brain

Arjen P. Versloot
  • German and Scandinavian Languages and Cultures, University of Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, NL 1012 VB Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Fryske Akademy
  • Email:
/ Eric Hoekstra
  • Corresponding author
  • Fryske Akademy, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Doelestrjitte 8, NL 8911 DX Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, The Netherlands
  • Email:
Published Online: 2016-11-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2016-0028


Bilingual speakers store cognates from related languages close together in their mental lexicon. In the case of minority languages, words from the dominant language often exert influence on their cognates in the minority language. In this article, we present a model describing that influence or force of attraction as a function of frequency and of (dis)similarity (representational distance). More specifically, it is claimed that the strength of the force of attraction of one word upon another is (among others) a function of their frequencies divided by their formal dissimilarity. The model is applied to the distribution of nouns derived from adjectives in Frisian, where the suffix -ens competes with -heid. Of these two suffixes, Frisian -heid is similar to Dutch -heid, whereas Frisian -ens does not have a similar counterpart in Dutch. The model predicts that Frisian derived nouns of which the adjectival bases are similar in form and meaning to Dutch will occur more often with -heid and less often with -ens. It also predicts that this effect will be stronger as the words involved are more frequent. Our findings make it possible to verify the model’s quantification of the influence of Dutch words on their cognates.

Keywords: bilingualism; representational convergence; language modeling; word storage; analogy; blocking


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-11-08

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2016-0028. Export Citation

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