Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

A Naturalness Gradient Shapes the Learnability and Cross-Linguistic Distribution of Morphological Paradigms


Saldana Gascon, Carmen; Herce, Borja; Bickel, Balthasar (2022). A Naturalness Gradient Shapes the Learnability and Cross-Linguistic Distribution of Morphological Paradigms. Cognitive Science Society. Annual Conference. Proceedings, 44(4):787-794.

Abstract

As efficient systems of communication, languages are usually expected to map meanings to forms in a one-to-one way, using for example the same affix form (e.g., -s in English) every time a particular meaning is intended (e.g., plural number), and placing affixes with the same meaning consistently in the same position (e.g., always suffixal). Forms and positional rules extending over contexts with a common meaning (e.g., plural in 1PL, 2PL, 3PL) are thus considered natural, and those extending over contexts with no consistent common meaning (e.g., 1PL and 3SG) are considered unnatural. Natural patterns are most common cross-linguistically, and most learnable in experiments; however, little is yet know about differences between unnatural classes. In this study we explore syncretism (i.e., use of the same form in different functions) and affix position in the domain of person and number agreement in verbs, both cross-linguistically and in artificial language learning experiments. Results from the two approaches and both phenomena converge in finding a gradient of (un)naturalness. Rather than a dichotomous natural/unnatural distinction, we found that both cross-linguistic frequency and learnability are proportional to the amount of shared feature values among the contexts requiring the same form or position. We argue that a cognitive bias towards similarity-based structure explains our experimental results and could be driving the patterns observed in natural languages.

Abstract

As efficient systems of communication, languages are usually expected to map meanings to forms in a one-to-one way, using for example the same affix form (e.g., -s in English) every time a particular meaning is intended (e.g., plural number), and placing affixes with the same meaning consistently in the same position (e.g., always suffixal). Forms and positional rules extending over contexts with a common meaning (e.g., plural in 1PL, 2PL, 3PL) are thus considered natural, and those extending over contexts with no consistent common meaning (e.g., 1PL and 3SG) are considered unnatural. Natural patterns are most common cross-linguistically, and most learnable in experiments; however, little is yet know about differences between unnatural classes. In this study we explore syncretism (i.e., use of the same form in different functions) and affix position in the domain of person and number agreement in verbs, both cross-linguistically and in artificial language learning experiments. Results from the two approaches and both phenomena converge in finding a gradient of (un)naturalness. Rather than a dichotomous natural/unnatural distinction, we found that both cross-linguistic frequency and learnability are proportional to the amount of shared feature values among the contexts requiring the same form or position. We argue that a cognitive bias towards similarity-based structure explains our experimental results and could be driving the patterns observed in natural languages.

Statistics

Downloads

53 downloads since deposited on 22 Jun 2022
11 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

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 > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Language:English
Date:2022
Deposited On:22 Jun 2022 06:40
Last Modified:21 Mar 2024 11:40
Publisher:Cognitive Science Society
ISSN:1047-1316
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8wv9f99x#main
  • Content: Published Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)