University of Manchester
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Code from Gilman et al. "Does Zipf’s Law of Abbreviation Shape Birdsong?"

posted on 2023-11-23, 12:59 authored by Tucker GilmanTucker Gilman, CD Durrant, Lucy Malpas, Rebecca N Lewis

Zipf's Law of Abbreviation (ZLA) predicts that words or tokens in a language that are used more frequently will tend to be shorter than those that are used less frequently. This has been attributed to the principle of least effort - communication is most efficient when the most frequently used words or tokens are also short or easy to produce. All human languages are thought to adhere to ZLA. Recently, there has been growing interest in whether animal communication also adheres to ZLA. In birdsong, ZLA suggests that shorter notes or phrases should be used more frequently than longer ones. Here, we introduce a new method for assessing ZLA in birdsong, and provide an R package to conduct the analysis. We use this package to study the birdsong of 11 populations archived in the open-access repository Bird-DB. We find only weak evidence for ZLA in each population individually, but across all populations there is a consistent trend toward shorter phrases being used more frequently. We show that the relationship between phrase length and frequency of use in birdsong is several times weaker than the relationship between word length and frequency of use in human languages.

The codes archived in this FigShare item reproduce the analyses from this study.


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