Language evolution seminar
Speaker: Annie Holtz (The University of Edinburgh)
Progress Report: In this progress report I examine previously observed simplicity and naturalness effects in syntax and propose that these concepts can be reformulated as biases that belong to two different categories, namely system-wide and item-specific biases. I illustrate how simplicity effects, such as word order harmony, are grounded in system-wide evaluation of linguistic information by learners. Similarly, I draw on analyses of homomorphism and how the semantics of event types can condition word order as examples of how item-specific biases give rise to word order patterns. I present typological data and discuss how the effects of these two kinds of biases can combine to generate strong cross-linguistic patterns. However, the combined effect of item-specific and system-wide biases makes it hard to disambiguate their individual influence on language structure. I propose that we can disentangle the effects of these two types of biases by identifying instances in which they compete within the same linguistic structure. I also discuss how manipulating the experimental task to include varying amounts of innovation might allow us to identify under which conditions item-specific and system-wide biases influence linguistic behaviour.
Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution