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Category clustering: A probabilistic bias in the morphology of verbal agreement marking


Mansfield, John; Stoll, Sabine; Bickel, Balthasar (2020). Category clustering: A probabilistic bias in the morphology of verbal agreement marking. Language. Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, 96(2):255-293.

Abstract

Recent research has revealed several languages (e.g. Chintang, Rarámuri, Tagalog, Murrinhpatha) that challenge the general expectation of strict sequential ordering in morphological structure. However, it has remained unclear whether these languages exhibit random placement of affixes or whether there are some underlying probabilistic principles that predict their placement. Here we address this question for verbal agreement markers and hypothesize a probabilistic universal of category clustering, with two effects: (i) markers in paradigmatic opposition tend to be placed in the same morphological position (‘paradigmatic alignment’; Crysmann & Bonami 2016); (ii) morphological positions tend to be categorically uniform (‘featural coherence’; Stump 2001). We first show in a corpus study that category clustering drives the distribution of agreement prefixes in speakers’ production of Chintang, a language where prefix placement is not constrained by any categorical rules of sequential ordering. We then show in a typological study that the same principle also shapes the evolution of morphological structure: although exceptions are attested, paradigms are much more likely to obey rather than to violate the principle. Category clustering is therefore a good candidate for a universal force shaping the structure and use of language, potentially due to benefits in processing and learning.*

Abstract

Recent research has revealed several languages (e.g. Chintang, Rarámuri, Tagalog, Murrinhpatha) that challenge the general expectation of strict sequential ordering in morphological structure. However, it has remained unclear whether these languages exhibit random placement of affixes or whether there are some underlying probabilistic principles that predict their placement. Here we address this question for verbal agreement markers and hypothesize a probabilistic universal of category clustering, with two effects: (i) markers in paradigmatic opposition tend to be placed in the same morphological position (‘paradigmatic alignment’; Crysmann & Bonami 2016); (ii) morphological positions tend to be categorically uniform (‘featural coherence’; Stump 2001). We first show in a corpus study that category clustering drives the distribution of agreement prefixes in speakers’ production of Chintang, a language where prefix placement is not constrained by any categorical rules of sequential ordering. We then show in a typological study that the same principle also shapes the evolution of morphological structure: although exceptions are attested, paradigms are much more likely to obey rather than to violate the principle. Category clustering is therefore a good candidate for a universal force shaping the structure and use of language, potentially due to benefits in processing and learning.*

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Language Science
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Linguistics and Language, Language and Linguistics
Language:English
Date:1 January 2020
Deposited On:23 Jun 2020 09:15
Last Modified:27 Jan 2022 12:45
Publisher:Linguistic Society of America
ISSN:0097-8507
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2020.0021
Official URL:https://muse.jhu.edu/article/757629

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