LEC talk Tuesday 2 February: Christine Cuskley

By jon | January 29, 2016

Tuesday 2 February, 11:00–12:30
1.17 Dugald Stewart Building

Christine Cuskley

Frequency and Stability in Linguistic Rules

Frequency and stability exhibit an interesting relationship in language: the more frequent a linguistic construction is, the less it tends to change over time. Despite this evident relationship, it is less clear what specific social and cognitive factors cause increased stability in more frequent constructions. This talk will present work which aims to examine the specific factors underlying the frequency-stability relationship using the test case of verb regularity in English: highly frequent verbs are more likely to be irregular, while less frequent verbs tend to destabilise to the regular form. To investigate this, I will present analysis from a historical corpus of English showing that vocabulary growth underlies the most marked increases in regularity over time, and verbs transition from irregular to regular and visa versa within a particular frequency band. In another approach to the problem, an adaptation of the Naming Game sheds light on the dynamics of rules and irregular exceptions across a population of interacting agents. Finally, I present an experiment which contrasts how native and non-native speakers inflect novel verbs to investigate how differences in population structure might affect regularity in a language system. Together, these results help us to better understand what causes the persistence of irregular exceptions to regular rules in language more generally, and how sociolinguistic and demographic processes may effect regularity.