Exploring probabilistic grammar(s)
(For more information, check out the project’s website here.)
This research project (PI: Benedikt Szmrecsanyi) marries the spirit of the Probabilistic Grammar Framework (which is the methodological outcome of the usage-based turn in linguistic theory, positing that grammatical knowledge is experience-based and partially probabilistic) to research along the lines of the English World-Wide Paradigm (which is concerned with the sociolinguistics of, and linguistic variation across, post-colonial English-speaking communities around the world). The novelty of the project thus lies in synthesizing two hitherto rather disjoint lines of research into one unifying project with a coherent empirical and theoretical focus. Because variation is a core explanandum in current linguistic theorizing, the project will contribute to the development of usage-based theoretical linguistics by adopting a variational, large-scale comparative, and sociolinguistically responsible perspective.
The project analyses several syntactic alternations across nine varieties of English represented in the International Corpus of English, namely English in Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, Jamaica, Canada, Philippines, India, New Zealand and Ireland, in order to answer the following main question: “How does language users’ grammatical knowledge differ across post-colonial varieties of English?
Four patterns of grammatical variation take center stage: The Genitive Alternation, the Dative Alternation, Particle Placement and (Non-)Finite Complementation. To investigating the probabilistic effects of various constraints on these alternations, we make use of advanced statistical methods, including mixed-effects logistic regression modeling and conditional random forests analysis. Thus, we can focus (and answer) related questions such as: to what extent do different English varieties share a core grammar that is explanatory across different varieties; to what extend to the alternations under scrutiny exhibit cross-constructional parallelism; and, to what extent are individual probabilistic constraints explainable by cross-lectal, sociohistorical or cultural factors?
Prof. Dr. Benedikt Szmrecsanyi (PI)
Dr. Jason Grafmiller
Benedikt Heller (PhD fellow)
Melanie Röthlisberger (PhD fellow)