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Description: Like biological species, competition for survival is a constant among words in language. Previously, it has been shown that language evolves in response to cognitive constraints and over time becomes more learnable. Here, we use two complementary research paradigms to demonstrate how survival of words can be predicted by psycholinguistic properties that impact language production. In the first study, we analyzed survival of words in the context of inter-personal communication. We used a large-scale serial reproduction experiment in which stories were passed down along a transmission chain over multiple participants. The result shows that words that are acquired earlier in life, more concrete, more arousing, and more emotional have better chance to survive retellings. We reason that the same trend might scale up to language evolution over multiple generations of natural language users. If that is correct, the same set of psycholinguistics properties should also account for the change of word frequency in natural language corpora over evolutionary time. That is what we found in two large historical language corpora (study 2): early acquisition, concreteness and high arousal all predicts increasing word frequency over the past 200 years. By bridging micro-level behavioral preferences and macro-level language patterns, our study sheds light on the evolutionary mechanism of word competition.


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