Modeling rules and similarity in colexification

Sammy Floyd, Kavindya Dalawella, Adele E. Goldberg, Casey Lew-Williams, Thomas L. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Colexification, or the expression of multiple concepts by the same word, is ubiquitous in language. Colexifications may appear rule-like, as when an artifact is used for an activity (repair the shower/take a shower), or similarity-based (child refers to both “young person” and “descendant”). We investigate whether these two modes of generalization (rules and similarity) reflect how people structure new meanings. We propose computational models based on rules, similarity, and a hybrid of the two, and correlate model predictions to human behavior—in a novel task, participants generalized labels across colexified meanings. We found that a model using similarity correlated much better with human behavior than rules, and that the similarity model was significantly outperformed by a hybrid model of the two mechanisms. However, the difference between similarity and hybrid was modest, suggesting that a framework which combines rules and similarity largely relies on similarity-based generalization to characterize human expectations about colexification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2021
Event43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021 - Virtual, Online, Austria
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021


Conference43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021
CityVirtual, Online

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction


  • Bayesian modeling
  • colexification
  • generalization
  • natural language processing
  • polysemy
  • semantics


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