Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Milica Denic (Universiteit van Amsterdam)

Title: Complexity/informativeness trade-off in the domain of indefinite pronouns

Abstract: The vocabulary of human languages has been argued to support efficient communication by optimizing the trade-off between complexity and informativeness (Kemp & Regier, 2012). The argument has been based on cross-linguistic analyses of vocabulary in semantic domains of content words such as kinship, color, and number terms. The present work extends this analysis to a category of function words: indefinite pronouns (e.g. someone, anyone, no-one, cf. Haspelmath, 2001). We establish the meaning space and feature-based representations for indefinite pronouns, and show that indefinite pronoun systems across languages optimize the complexity/informativeness trade-off. This demonstrates that pressures for efficient communication shape both content and function word categories, thus tying in with the conclusions of recent work on quantifiers (Steinert-Threlkeld, 2019). Furthermore, we argue that the trade-off may explain some of the universal properties of indefinite pronouns, thus reducing the explanatory load for linguistic theories.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Henry Conklin

Centre for Language Evolution

Jun 23 2020 -

Language evolution seminar

2020-06-23: Complexity/informativeness trade-off in the domain of indefinite pronouns

Online via link invitation