Exploring the Adaptive Structurem of the Mental Lexicon

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Moray House School of Education


The mental lexicon is a complex structure organised in terms of word forms and word meanings. Tamariz proposes that every aspect of the organisation of the lexicon is an adaptation to pressures ultimately related to communication or to the learnability of language. Information-theory tools, for instance, show how the distribution of information within words facilitates learning.

Psycholinguistic experiments measure similarity between word forms, and cooccurrence statistics , between word meanings. Statistical methods reveal a higher order of lexicon structure – a correlation between the form and the meaning structures of the lexicon in Spanish, confirming similar results for English (Shillcock, Kirby, McDonald & Brew, 2001).

This high-order structure may be responding to the ubiquitous pressure for systematic mappings between representations related to the same object in the mammalian nervous system. Systematic mapping leads to an efficient use of neural resources and results in a lexicon where words that sound similar tend to have similar meanings.

Finally, a new statistical paradigm determines the adaptive function of aspects of word form - some aspects seem to respond to the pressure for systematic mappings, while others seem to respond to the opposite pressure for differentiation between words that have similar meanings.


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