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approximation to language


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A random string of words in which the relative frequencies of words or word sequences correspond to their relative frequencies in the language. A zero-order approximation is a random string of words that takes no account of relative frequencies; in a first-order approximation, the relative frequencies of words correspond to their relative frequencies in the language, so that the most common words, such as the and is in English, occur relatively frequently; in a second-order approximation, the relative frequencies of word pairs correspond to their relative frequencies in the language, and so on. The US psychologist George A(rmitage) Miller (born 1920) and the English-born US psychologist Jennifer A(nne) Selfridge (born 1929) introduced a psychological technique, published in the American Journal of Psychology in 1950, for constructing a slightly different type of approximation: for a zero-order approximation, words are selected at random from a dictionary (Combat callous irritability migrates depraved temporal prolix…); for a first-order approximation, words are selected from published word counts in proportion to their frequencies (Day to is for they have proposed I the it materials of are…); for a second-order approximation, a word is chosen at random and is shown to a person, who is asked to suggest the most likely word to follow it, then this second word alone is shown to another person, who suggests the most likely word to follow it, and so on (Gone down here is not large feet are the happy days and so what is dead weight that many were constructed…); for a third-order approximation, each person sees the two preceding words (Happened to see Europe again is that trip to the end is…); and for a fourth-order approximation, each person sees the three preceding words (We are going to see him is not correct to chuckle loudly and depart for home…). Each successive order of approximation is more meaningful and is easier to learn, to recall after learning, and to hear when spoken softly or with background noise. See also stylostatistics.

Subjects: Psychology.


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