Chapter in:Building Categories in Interaction: Linguistic resources at work
Edited by Caterina Mauri, Ilaria Fiorentini and Eugenio Goria
[Studies in Language Companion Series 220] 2021
► pp. 112–154
Are new words predictable?
A pilot study on the origin of neologies by means of natural selection
Research on neologisms has so far been dominated by retrospective investigations (cf. e.g. Schmid 2008; Kerremans & Prokić 2018). By contrast, the present study is probably the first to directly tap into speakers’ linguistic competence by eliciting names for unfamiliar entities. Building on early assumptions by Darwin (1859, 1871) and others an evolutionary, fitness-based approach is developed to predict und thus explain the selections made by groups of German speakers of successful neologisms from self-generated pools. Four main factors are identified as crucial: quantity (brevity), quality (truthfulness), relation (distinctiveness) and manner (attractiveness). In order to test the viability of the theory an experiment is conducted and replicated. The results provide preliminary support for the assumptions made.
Keywords: language change, prediction, experimental linguistics, lexicon, neologisms, Darwinian evolution, natural selection, fitness