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Jean-Baptiste Estoup and the origins of Zipf’s law (1868-1950)

Alain Lelu
Grupo KIWI (LORIA, Nancy)
Universidad de Franche-Comté
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  • Abstract
    Statistical distributions with a power law have been observed for over a century in many domains of social sciences, as well as in natural and life sciences. They are of utmost importance for those building models applicable to human activities (e.g. the ”long tail” phenomena). We present here the life and accomplishments of J-B. Estoup, who was the first to notice this type of distribution in the language domain, and inspired the subsequent formulations by G.K. Zipf and B. Mandelbrot. This study, first presented at the seminar on the history of probabilities and statistics held at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales on December the 7th, 2007 in Paris, is also a family testimony, the author being the grandson of J-B. Estoup.
  • Keywords: History of statistics, Power-law distribution, Word frequencies Zipf”s law, Stenography.
  • AMS Subject classifications: 01A60, 62-03, 62G30.