Frequency and the Emergence of Linguistic Structure

Overview

A mainstay of functional linguistics has been the claim that linguistic elements and patterns that are frequently used in discourse become conventionalized as grammar. This book addresses the two issues that are basic to this claim: first, the question of what types of elements are frequently used in discourse and second, the question of how frequency of use affects cognitive representations. Reporting on evidence from natural conversation, diachronic change, variability, child language acquisition and ...
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Overview

A mainstay of functional linguistics has been the claim that linguistic elements and patterns that are frequently used in discourse become conventionalized as grammar. This book addresses the two issues that are basic to this claim: first, the question of what types of elements are frequently used in discourse and second, the question of how frequency of use affects cognitive representations. Reporting on evidence from natural conversation, diachronic change, variability, child language acquisition and psycholinguistic experimentation the original articles in this book support two major principles. First, the content of people’s interactions consists of a preponderance of subjective, evaluative statements, dominated by the use of pronouns, copulas and intransitive clauses. Second, the frequency with which certain items and strings of items are used has a profound influence on the way language is broken up into chunks in memory storage, the way such chunks are related to other stored material and the ease with which they are accessed to produce new utterances.
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Editorial Reviews

Ahmad R. Lotfi in Linguist List Vol-13-2116
The collection contains very insightful articles on the issues of the highest interest to phoneticians, morphologists, syntacticians, cognitive linguists and psycholinguists. They represent the very healthy attitude of the recent years to focus on the question of possible relationships between abstract linguistic structures and issues in performance captured in empirical terms.
Holger Diessel
The most sriking feature of the book is perhaps the wealth of data presented in the articles. In contrast to much other work in contemporary linguistics, in which the researcher's linguistic intuitions often provide the only data source, the authors of the papers in this volume back up their theoretical claims with statistically analyzed data from large corpora, psycholinguistic experiments and linguistic surveys.

The volume presents an important contribution to the growing body of literature in which grammar is seen as a dynamic system that emerges from language use. I was especially impressed by the amount of data presented in the papers and the attention that has been given to methodological issues. Linguistics is often criticized for being non-empirical, but this critique certainly does not hold for the book under review.

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