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Word Order Variation is Partially Constrained by Syntactic Complexity


Jing, Yingqi; Widmer, Paul; Bickel, Balthasar (2021). Word Order Variation is Partially Constrained by Syntactic Complexity. Cognitive Science, 45(11):e13056.

Abstract

Previous work suggests that when speakers linearize syntactic structures, they place longer and more complex dependents further away from the head word to which they belong than shorter and simpler dependents, and that they do so with increasing rigidity the longer expressions get, for example, longer objects tend to be placed further away from their verb, and with less variation. Current theories of sentence processing furthermore make competing predictions on whether longer expressions are preferentially placed as early or as late as possible. Here we test these predictions using hierarchical distributional regression models that allow estimates of word order and word order variation at the level of individual dependencies in corpora from 71 languages, while controlling for confounding effects from the type of dependency (e.g., subject vs. object), and the type of clause (main vs. subordinate) involved as well as from trends that are characteristic of individual languages, language families, and language contact areas. Our results show the expected correlations of length with position and variation only for two out of six dependency types (obliques and nominal modifiers) and no difference between clause types. These findings challenge received theories of across-the-board effects of complexity on word order and word order variation and call for theoretical models that relativize effects to specific kinds of syntactic structures and dependencies.

Abstract

Previous work suggests that when speakers linearize syntactic structures, they place longer and more complex dependents further away from the head word to which they belong than shorter and simpler dependents, and that they do so with increasing rigidity the longer expressions get, for example, longer objects tend to be placed further away from their verb, and with less variation. Current theories of sentence processing furthermore make competing predictions on whether longer expressions are preferentially placed as early or as late as possible. Here we test these predictions using hierarchical distributional regression models that allow estimates of word order and word order variation at the level of individual dependencies in corpora from 71 languages, while controlling for confounding effects from the type of dependency (e.g., subject vs. object), and the type of clause (main vs. subordinate) involved as well as from trends that are characteristic of individual languages, language families, and language contact areas. Our results show the expected correlations of length with position and variation only for two out of six dependency types (obliques and nominal modifiers) and no difference between clause types. These findings challenge received theories of across-the-board effects of complexity on word order and word order variation and call for theoretical models that relativize effects to specific kinds of syntactic structures and dependencies.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Language Science
06 Faculty of Arts > Zurich Center for Linguistics
Special Collections > NCCR Evolving Language
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:410 Linguistics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Neuroscience, Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 November 2021
Deposited On:11 Nov 2021 09:56
Last Modified:26 Jun 2024 01:43
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0364-0213
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.13056
Related URLs:https://osf.io/4s67a/ (Research Data)
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant IDP500PH_202882
  • : Project TitleBridging the gap between word order typology and universal dependency parsing
  • Content: Published Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)