Frequency-dependent Regularization in Constituent Ordering Preferences

AbstractWe examine how idiosyncrasies of specific verbs in syntactic constructions affect constituent ordering preferences. Previous work on binomial expressions in English has demonstrated that the polarization of ordering preferences for a given binomial type depends on its overall frequency. The higher the frequency of a binomial type, the stronger and more extreme preference/regularization language users will have for one alternative over the other (e.g. "facts and techniques” > "techniques and facts”; “bread and butter” >>> “butter and bread”). Here using the dative constructions in English as the test case, we show that the same frequency-dependent regularization exists in syntactic structures above the word level. The more frequent a dative construction type is, governed by the head verb, the stronger preference there is for one alternation over the other. Further, we present evidence that the regularization patterns can be accounted for via iterated learning modeling of language change, suggesting that frequency-dependent regularization emerges via the interactions between language production, language learning and cultural transmission.

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