We at the Cognitive Lexicon Laboratory take a computational approach to study the lexicon—the system for organizing words and meanings. The broad question we ask is how languages rely on a finite lexicon to express a growing and potentially infinite set of ideas. This tension often results in variation or extension of word meanings over time. Our research explores the cognitive mechanisms and knowledge that underlie this variation, as well as their connections with word meaning variation across languages and lexical semantic innovation and acquisition. This line of inquiry has applications in natural language processing: it will enable machines to learn to interpret and communicate novel meanings and adapt to emerging needs. The methods we develop for longitudinal text analysis can also inform sociomoral changes that are reflected in natural language use.

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