Follow the Leader: Documents on the Leading Edge of Semantic Change Get More Citations

9 Sep 2019  ·  Sandeep Soni, Kristina Lerman, Jacob Eisenstein ·

Diachronic word embeddings -- vector representations of words over time -- offer remarkable insights into the evolution of language and provide a tool for quantifying sociocultural change from text documents. Prior work has used such embeddings to identify shifts in the meaning of individual words. However, simply knowing that a word has changed in meaning is insufficient to identify the instances of word usage that convey the historical or the newer meaning. In this paper, we link diachronic word embeddings to documents, by situating those documents as leaders or laggards with respect to ongoing semantic changes. Specifically, we propose a novel method to quantify the degree of semantic progressiveness in each word usage, and then show how these usages can be aggregated to obtain scores for each document. We analyze two large collections of documents, representing legal opinions and scientific articles. Documents that are scored as semantically progressive receive a larger number of citations, indicating that they are especially influential. Our work thus provides a new technique for identifying lexical semantic leaders and demonstrates a new link between progressive use of language and influence in a citation network.

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