Measuring Semantic Changes Using Temporal Word Embedding


Measuring Semantic Changes Using Temporal Word Embedding

Measuring Semantic Changes Using Temporal Word Embedding

Semantic change (sometimes also called semantic shiftsemantic drift, and language evolution) refers to the evolution of word meaning over time. Linguists have long been interested in measuring, studying, and quantifying semantic change. Words can change over long periods of time (i.e., decades or centuries), in which core meaning of words shift; or over shorter periods of time (i.e., months or years), in which changes come about due to cultural events (such as technological advancements).

One way of tracking semantic changes is by counting raw word frequency (Hilpert & Gries, 2009) or counting the frequency of a word collocating with another word over time (Heyer, Holz, & Teresniak, 2009). More sophisticated work builds upon distributional semantics, which measures the semantic change of a word based on its neighbors. Distributional semantics is built on the assumption that words occurring in the same contexts tend to have similar meanings. Linguist John Firth, a pioneer in this field, described it as such in his famous statement: “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (Firth, 1957).

The example below shows the evolution of three words over several decades, described in the paper written by Hamilton et al. (2016). We can evaluate the contextual words most commonly associated with a keyword at different time points and compare these contexts to determine how words have changed over time. For example, the word “awful” has shifted from one synonymous to majesty and solemness in the 1850s, to indicating terror in the 1900s, to meaning weird and wonderful in the 1990s. The relationships in the diagram below are captured using temporal word embeddings…


September 27, 2021
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