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George Kingsley Zipf (pronounced [ˈzɪf][citation needed]), (1902–1950), was an American linguist and philologist who studied statistical occurrences in different languages. Zipf was Chairman of the German Department and University Lecturer (meaning he could teach any subject he chose) at Harvard University. He worked with Chinese languages and demographics, and much of his effort can explain properties of the Internet, distribution of income within nations, and many other collections of data.

Zipf's lawEdit

Main article: Zipf's law

George Kingsley Zipf is the eponym of Zipf's law, which states that while only a few words are used very often, many or most are used rarely,

P_n \sim 1/n^a

where Pn is the frequency of a word ranked nth and the exponent a is almost 1. This means that the second item occurs approximately 1/2 as often as the first, and the third item 1/3 as often as the first, and so on. [1].

The rank vs. frequency distribution of individual incomes in a unified nation approximates this law. Breaks in this "normal curve of income distribution" portend social pressure for change, even revolution. This is demonstrated in his 1941 book, "National Unity and Disunity" in which the break in the curve of income distribution in 1940 in Indonesia predicts revolution there. Revolution began five years later, in 1945.

See alsoEdit


  • Zipf, George Kingsley (1932): Selected Studies of the Principle of Relative Frequency in Language. Cambridge (Mass.).
  • ——— (1935): The Psycho-Biology of Language. Cambridge (Mass.).
  • ——— (1941): National unity and disunity
  • ——— (1946): The P1 P2/D Hypothesis: On the Intercity Movement of Persons. American Sociological Review, vol. 11, Dec, pp. 677
  • ——— (1949): Human behavior and the principle of least effort

External linksEdit

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