LSA 135: Usage frequency effects in syntax

Martin Haspelmath | session 1 | MW 1:30 – 3:15, 370 Dwinelle Hall

This course will examine syntactic generalizations that can be argued to have their roots in frequency differences between construction types. Unlike the obvious frequency effects in syntactic processing, frequency effects in syntactic structure cannot be studied directly. They require a complex approach involving psycholinguistic foundations, typological observations and diachronic implementation, and it is perhaps due to this complexity that the literature on syntactic universals largely ignores frequency as an explanatory factor. I will argue, however, that a large number of well-established (morpho-)syntactic universals find their explanation in usage frequency. In the course, phenomena such as differential object marking, split ergativity, possessive alienability splits, accessibility to relativization, reflexivization, and infinitival constructions will be examined from a typological and diachronic perspective, and the frequency-based explanations for them will be embedded in relevant psycholinguistic findings.

Reading: Selected materials available online.

Prerequisites: Students should have some knowledge of morphology, syntax and diachrony, and a serious interest in cross-linguistic diversity and similarities. Experience in corpus linguistics would be an asset.

Areas of linguistics: Syntax, semantics, and morphology

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