Fixedness in language has been extensively studied in areas like multi-word units, idiomatic expressions, collocations and verb-particle constructions. These have often been treated as relatively fixed non-compositional sequences, which allow for little variation. In our paper we will focus on co-occurrence phenomena between elements in syntactic relations. Specifically, we focus on subject-verb and verb-object relations in active and passive constructions. Looking for fixedness in these syntactic relations where compositionality is expected to hold to a large degree may strike the reader as a strange undertaking. Our main interest lies in establishing how far an open choice principle holds for these relations and to what degree we can find fixedness in these syntactic relations.
The identification of syntactic relations requires syntactically annotated corpora. Most standard corpora of sufficient size are either not annotated at all, or annotated at the non-hierarchical level of part-of-speech tags only. They typically contain no hierarchical information about the syntactic organisation of sentences.
Parsing approaches to fixedness are still quite rare. Exceptions are Lin (1998) and Seretan and Wehrli (2006). Robust broad-coverage syntactic parsers, for example Schneider (2007) or Andersen (2008), have now become available, offering new perspectives for this research.
This paper describes the syntactic annotation of over 160 million running words with the help of Pro3Gres, a dependency parser. See Schneider (2007) for a more detailed description. We document the extraction of a database with verb centres and their dependents. We then explore the possibilities and limitations of this dependency database for the study of fixedness in syntactic relations.