Alternations in the acquisition of argument structure (with Adele Goldberg)
Usage-based approaches to language development have long emphasized the important role played by statistical information in shaping the linguistic generalizations posited by learners. However, there is still much debate as to which aspects of the input matter. In this project, we consider the role played by alternations, i.e., whether and to what extent lexical items can be used in several different structures, in the acquisition of verb argument structure. We use artificial language experiments to investigate how alternations promote syntactic productivity and how this interacts with other aspects of the language, such as the function of constructions.
Change in syntactic productivity in Late Modern English constructions
Syntactic productivity refers to the property of the slots of a syntactic construction to attract new lexical fillers. In diachrony, a construction comes to be used with a wider range of different items as its productivity increases over time. This project is concerned with the factors that influence the productivity of a construction, especially with respect to semantics. I use distributional vector-space semantic models to build semantic representations of the distribution of constructions, and I use this information to track their semantic development over time, drawing on data from diachronic corpora. This method allows to test hypotheses about the relation of semantics and usage to productivity in a fully data-driven way.
Frequency effects in language comprehension (with Dagmar Divjak)
It is widely known that syntactic structures differ in terms of the processing difficulty that they present to speakers. A wide body of research has convincingly showed that this largely has to do with the frequency with which words (especially verbs) occur in particular structures (e.g., direct object vs. sentential complement), with frequent combinations being preferred and more easily processed than infrequent ones. This project aims to expand on the existing studies by investigating frequency effects in sentence processing with the gerund vs. infinitive complement alternation (e.g., started crying vs. started to cry). We expect our results to illuminate some aspects of the cognitive representations involved in language comprehension. We also seek to investigate possible individual differences in the sensitivity to frequency effects.