October 17th, 2017: Dr. Robert Bayley

Join us for our first invited talk of the 2017-2018 school year where Dr. Robert Bayley from the Department of Linguistics will discuss “Frequency effects in syntactic variation: Evidence from subject personal pronoun variation in U.S. Spanish and Mandarin Chinese”

Time: Tuesday, October 17th, 3:10-4:00

Location: Voorhies 228

Abstract: With the rise of exemplar theory (Bybee 2010), the role of lexical frequency in language variation and change has been a focus of considerable study, particularly in phonology (e.g. Bybee 2002; Jurafsky et al. 2001; Walker 2012). Results, however, have been mixed, with some studies showing strong frequency effects and others showing no such effects. Recently Erker and Guy (2012) extended the analysis of frequency effects to morphosyntactic variation. Based on data from 12 Dominican and Mexican speakers from Otheguy and Zentella’s (2012) New York City Spanish corpus, they examined the role of frequency in variation between null and overt subject personal pronouns (SPP), one of the most widely studied variables in Spanish sociolinguistics. Erker and Guy’s results suggest that frequency either activates or amplifies the effects of other constraints such as co-reference with the subject of the preceding verb and person and number. In this talk I examine the role of frequency on SPP variation in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, based on data collected in northern California, south Texas, and Harbin, China. Multivariate analyses of more than 8,600 tokens of U.S. Spanish and more than 6,600 tokens of Mandarin Chinese suggest that frequency has only a minimal effect on speakers’ choices between overt and null subject pronouns. The results presented in this study, as well as results presented in Bayley et al. (in press), Li and Bayley (forthcoming), and Martínez-Sanz and Van Herk (2012), suggest that the role of frequency, at least in this area of the grammar, has been considerably exaggerated and that well-established linguistic factors provide a better explanation for SPP variation than frequency.

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