Semantic diversity is best measured with unscaled vectors: Reply to Cevoli, Watkins and Rastle (2020)

Paul Hoffman*, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, Timothy T. Rogers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Semantic diversity refers to the degree of semantic variability in the contexts in which a particular word is used. We have previously proposed a method for measuring semantic diversity based on latent semantic analysis (LSA). In a recent paper, Cevoli et al. (2020) attempted to replicate our method and obtained different semantic diversity values. They suggested that this discrepancy occurred because they scaled their LSA vectors by their singular values, while we did not. Using their new results, they argued that semantic diversity is not related to ambiguity in word meaning, as we originally proposed. In this reply, we demonstrate that the use of unscaled vectors provides better fits to human semantic judgements than scaled ones. Thus we argue that our original semantic diversity measure should be preferred over the Cevoli et al. version. We replicate Cevoli et al.’s analysis using the original semantic diversity measure and find (a) our original measure is a better predictor of word recognition latencies than the Cevoli et al. equivalent and (b) that, unlike Cevoli et al.’s measure, our semantic diversity is reliably associated with a measure of polysemy based on dictionary definitions. We conclude that the Hoffman et al. semantic diversity measure is better-suited to capturing the contextual variability among words and that words appearing in a more diverse set of contexts have more variable semantic representations. However, we found that homonyms did not have higher semantic diversity values than non-homonyms, suggesting that the measure does not capture this special case of ambiguity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Early online date29 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Sept 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • semantic diversity
  • lexical ambiguity
  • polysemy


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