Dan Slobin

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki

Usage-based language change: Interactions of morphosyntax, lexicon, and pragmatics

Abstract A language provides its users with fixed patterns (constructions) for the encoding of various types of events. Frequent use of particular constructions results in elaboration of the semantic domains encoded by those constructions, with corresponding discourse pragmatics and with consequences for acquisition and cognition. Motion events will be taken as a case study of these proposals.

Crosslinguistic studies of the encoding of motion events reveal two major construction types with regard to the expression of direction of motion (path): Path can be encoded by the main verb of a clause, as in the Latinate pattern (‘enter, exit’, etc.), or in some other element, such as Germanic verb particles (‘go in, go out’, etc.). Germanic-type path-in-nonverb (PIN) constructions allow for manner of motion to be encoded in the main verb (‘run/tiptoe/crawl in/out’). Romance-type path in verb (PIV) constructions require the speaker to encode manner in various adverbial constructions (‘enter/exit running/on the tips of the toes/on all fours’). Languages that rely on PIN constructions tend to have larger lexicons of manner of motion expressions than languages that rely on PIV constructions; speakers of PIN constructions pay more attention to details of manner of movement in both linguistic and nonlinguistic tasks.

It will be suggested that such differences in lexical diversity within a semantic domain can be accounted for by processing and memory factors, as reflected in statistics of use. Entrenchment of a particular construction type and its associated lexical options leads to patterns of “thinking for speaking” which influence attention to event characteristics and which can lead to restructuring of form-meaning mappings in a second language. Consequently, language contact will occasion different sorts of morphosyntactic restructuring and lexical/conceptual organization, depending on the typologies of the contact languages.