Andrea Sims Colloquium

The Department of Linguistics Colloquium Series presents

Andrea D. Sims

Northwestern University

“When synchronic motivation disappears: On probabilities, paradigms, and processes of lexicalization”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cobb 201, 3:30pm


In this paper I explore some of the conditions under which inflectional structures become lexicalized, and why they persist once established in the lexicon. I present a case study of Russian verbs which are defective in the 1sg non-past (e.g., *pobezhu ‘I will win’). Starting with Halle (1973), these verbs have presented a 30+-year mystery for two reasons. First, there is no apparent synchronic motivation for these verbs being defective, yet the paradigmatic gaps are not filled by productive inflection. Second, it is generally accepted that the gaps have been lexicalized, but theories of lexicalization fail to explain why this happened (Brinton and Traugott 2005).

Based on experimental evidence and agent-based simulation, I argue that the lexicalization and continued existence of defectiveness among Russian verbs can be understood as a paradigm effect. Specifically, gaps represent an interaction between morphosyntactic probability distributions and morphophonological coherence. The core tenets of my proposal draw from existing literature: two-level paradigmatic structure (Stump 2006), sensitivity to probability distributions across the lexicon (Kemps et al. 2005), and a Bayesian learning mechanism (cf. Regier and Gahl 2004). However, this paper represents one of the first attempts to synthesize these disparate lines of research to explain inflectional change.

The results argue for a more extensive role of paradigmatic structure in promoting lexicalization than has previously been recognized (Aski 1995, Maiden 2004). It also shows that lexicalization is controlled by frequency in subtle ways, beyond the common observation that high frequency items are more likely to be entrenched.