Sander Lestrade, Unzipping Zipf's law, PLOS One, August 9, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181987.
Abstract: In spite of decades of theorizing, the origins of Zipf’s law remain elusive. I propose that a Zipfian distribution straightforwardly follows from the interaction of syntax (word classes differing in class size) and semantics (words having to be sufficiently specific to be distinctive and sufficiently general to be reusable). These factors are independently motivated and well-established ingredients of a natural-language system. Using a computational model, it is shown that neither of these ingredients suffices to produce a Zipfian distribution on its own and that the results deviate from the Zipfian ideal only in the same way as natural language itself does.