Evolution of language: An empirical study at eBay big data lab

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The evolutionary theory of language predicts that a language will tend towards fewer synonyms for a given object. We subject this and related predictions to empirical tests, using data from the eBay Big Data Lab which let us access all records of the words used by eBay vendors in their item titles, and by consumers in their searches. We find support for the predictions of the evolutionary theory of language. In particular, the mapping from object to words sharpens over time on both sides of the market, i.e. among consumers and among vendors. In addition, the word mappings used on the two sides of the market become more similar over time. Our research contributes to the literature on language evolution by reporting results of a truly unique large-scale empirical study.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0189107
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Bodoff et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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