Analogies between linguistics and information theory

Julian Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


An analogy is established between the syntagm and paradigm from Saussurean linguistics and the message and messages for selection from the information theory initiated by Claude Shannon. The analogy is pursued both as an end itself and for its analytic value in understanding patterns of retrieval from full text systems. The multivalency of individual words when isolated from their syntagm is contrasted with the relative stability of meaning of multi-word sequences, when searching ordinary written discourse. The syntagm is understood as the linear sequence of oral and written language. Saussureâ??s understanding of the word, as a unit which compels recognition by the mind, is endorsed, although not regarded as final. The lesser multivalency of multi-word sequences is understood as the greater determination of signification by the extended syntagm. The paradigm is primarily understood as the network of associations a word acquires when considered apart from the syntagm. The restriction of information theory to expression or signals, and its focus on the combinatorial aspects of the message, is sustained. The message in the model of communication in information theory can include sequences of written language. Shannonâ??s understanding of the written word, as a cohesive group of letters, with strong internal statistical influences, is added to the Saussurean conception. Sequences of more than one word are regarded as weakly correlated concatenations of cohesive units.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-321
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number3
Early online date06 Dec 2006
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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