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Dependency Length Minimization and Its Limits: A Possible Role for a Probabilistic Version of the Final-Over-Final Condition


Jing, Yingqi; Blasi, Damián E; Bickel, Balthasar (2022). Dependency Length Minimization and Its Limits: A Possible Role for a Probabilistic Version of the Final-Over-Final Condition. Language, 98(3):397-418.

Abstract

A prominent principle in explaining a range of word-order regularities is dependency locality, which minimizes the linear distances (dependency lengths) between a head and its dependents. However, it remains unclear to what extent language users in fact observe locality when producing sentences under diverse conditions of cross-categorical harmony (such as the placement of verbal and nominal heads on the same vs. different sides of their dependents), dependency direction (head-final vs. head-initial), and parallel vs. hierarchical dependency structures (e.g. multiple adjectives dependent on the same head vs. nested genitive dependents). Using forty-five dependency-annotated corpora of diverse languages, we find that after controlling for harmony and conditioning on dependency types, dependency-length minimization (DLM) is inversely correlated with the overall presence of head-final dependencies. This anti-DLM effect in sentences with more head-final dependencies is specifically associated with an accumulation of dependents in parallel structures and with disharmonic orders in hierarchical structures. We propose a detailed interpretation of these results and tentatively suggest a role for a probabilistic principle that favors embedding head-initial (e.g. VO) structures inside equally head-initial and thereby length-minimizing structures (e.g. relative clauses after the head noun), while head-final (OV) structures have a less pronounced preference for harmony and DLM. This is in line with earlier findings in research on the Greenbergian word-order universals and with a probabilistic version of what has been suggested more recently as the final-over-final condition.

Abstract

A prominent principle in explaining a range of word-order regularities is dependency locality, which minimizes the linear distances (dependency lengths) between a head and its dependents. However, it remains unclear to what extent language users in fact observe locality when producing sentences under diverse conditions of cross-categorical harmony (such as the placement of verbal and nominal heads on the same vs. different sides of their dependents), dependency direction (head-final vs. head-initial), and parallel vs. hierarchical dependency structures (e.g. multiple adjectives dependent on the same head vs. nested genitive dependents). Using forty-five dependency-annotated corpora of diverse languages, we find that after controlling for harmony and conditioning on dependency types, dependency-length minimization (DLM) is inversely correlated with the overall presence of head-final dependencies. This anti-DLM effect in sentences with more head-final dependencies is specifically associated with an accumulation of dependents in parallel structures and with disharmonic orders in hierarchical structures. We propose a detailed interpretation of these results and tentatively suggest a role for a probabilistic principle that favors embedding head-initial (e.g. VO) structures inside equally head-initial and thereby length-minimizing structures (e.g. relative clauses after the head noun), while head-final (OV) structures have a less pronounced preference for harmony and DLM. This is in line with earlier findings in research on the Greenbergian word-order universals and with a probabilistic version of what has been suggested more recently as the final-over-final condition.

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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:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Language:English
Date:2022
Deposited On:23 Sep 2022 06:25
Last Modified:27 Apr 2024 01:39
Publisher:Linguistic Society of America
ISSN:0097-8507
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.0.0267
Other Identification Number:Pre-Print Version auf PsyArXiv.com: 10.31234/osf.io/sp7r2 (DOI)
  • Content: Published Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)