David Levary Jean-Pierre Eckmann, Elisha Moses, and Tsvi Tlusty, "Loops and Self-Reference in the Construction of Dictionaries", Phys. Rev. X 2, 031018 (2012):
ABSTRACT: Dictionaries link a given word to a set of alternative words (the definition) which in turn point to further descendants. Iterating through definitions in this way, one typically finds that definitions loop back upon themselves. We demonstrate that such definitional loops are created in order to introduce new concepts into a language. In contrast to the expectations for a random lexical network, in graphs of the dictionary, meaningful loops are quite short, although they are often linked to form larger, strongly connected components. These components are found to represent distinct semantic ideas. This observation can be quantified by a singular value decomposition, which uncovers a set of conceptual relationships arising in the global structure of the dictionary. Finally, we use etymological data to show that elements of loops tend to be added to the English lexicon simultaneously and incorporate our results into a simple model for language evolution that falls within the “rich-get-richer” class of network growth.