LEXpander: applying colexification networks to automated lexicon expansion

Recent approaches to text analysis from social media and other corpora rely on word lists to detect topics, measure meaning, or to select relevant documents. These lists are often generated by applying computational lexicon expansion methods to small, manually-curated sets of root words. Despite the wide use of this approach, we still lack an exhaustive comparative analysis of the performance of lexicon expansion methods and how they can be improved with additional linguistic data. In this work, we present LEXpander, a method for lexicon expansion that leverages novel data on colexification, i.e. semantic networks connecting words based on shared concepts and translations to other languages. We evaluate LEXpander in a benchmark including widely used methods for lexicon expansion based on various word embedding models and synonym networks. We find that LEXpander outperforms existing approaches in terms of both precision and the trade-off between precision and recall of generated word lists in a variety of tests. Our benchmark includes several linguistic categories and sentiment variables in English and German. We also show that the expanded word lists constitute a high-performing text analysis method in application cases to various corpora. This way, LEXpander poses a systematic automated solution to expand short lists of words into exhaustive and accurate word lists that can closely approximate word lists generated by experts in psychology and linguistics.

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