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Why is there regularity in grammatical semantic change? Reassessing the explanatory power of asymmetric priming

Applicant Hilpert Martin
Number 149176
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut de langue et littérature allemandes Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.01.2014 - 31.12.2016
Approved amount 189'650.00
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Keywords (5)

semantic change; historical linguistics; priming; corpus linguistics; psycholinguistics

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Die Bedeutung sprachlicher Formen verändert sich ständig. Oft passiert eine Veränderung von einer konkreten Bedeutung hin zu einer abstrakteren Bedeutung. Dies wird besonders bei sprachlichen Formen beobachtet, die als grammatische Formen bezeichnet werden. Dieses Projekt untersucht, warum sich grammatische Formen in dieser Weise verändern. Eine mögliche Erklärung ist ein psychologischer Prozess, das asymmetrische Priming. Ob diese Erklärung zutrifft, soll durch Experimente geklärt werden.
Lay summary

Natürliche Sprachen befinden sich in stetem Wandel. Weitgehend unbemerkt von der Sprechergemeinschaft ändern sich fortwährend ihre Formen und deren Bedeutungen. Bestimmte Veränderungen in der Sprache laufen regelhaft ab, so dass sich wiederkehrende Prozesse ausmachen lassen. Einer davon ist der Bedeutungswandel in grammatischen Formen, der typischerweise von einer konkreten Wortbedeutung ausgeht und sich zu einer zunehmend abstrakteren, grammatischen Bedeutung hin entwickelt. Beispielsweise ging so aus dem Englischen Verb to go die Zukunftsmarkierung be going to hervor. Dies ist kein Sonderfall sondern eine Tendenz die sich über verschiedene Formen und Sprachen hinweg beobachten lässt. Warum nun ist diese Art von Bedeutungswandel so regelhaft? Das vorliegende Projekt nähert sich dieser Frage an, indem es eine bestehende Hypothese empirisch überprüft. Diese Hypothese führt Regelhaftigkeit in semantischem Wandel auf ein psychologisches Phänomen zurück, das sogenannte asymmetrische Priming. Asymmetrisches Priming liegt vor, wenn ein Wort ein zweites kognitiv aktiviert, dieser Prozess aber umgekehrt nicht genauso stattfindet. Beispielsweise weckt das Wort Ruder eine starke Assoziation mit dem Wort Wasser, umgekehrt jedoch evoziert Wasser nur schwach das Wort Ruder. Typische Assoziationen sind eher Meer, Regen, oder Dusche. Das vorliegende Projekt untersucht durch psycholinguistische Experimente und Analysen sprachlicher Korpusdaten, ob asymmetrische Assoziationsbeziehungen zwischen grammatischen Formen und ihren lexikalischen Ursprüngen vorliegen. Wenn ein lexikalisches Wort sein grammatisches Pendant evoziert, dies umgekehrt allerdings nicht der Fall ist, wäre das als positive Evidenz für die Hypothese des asymmetrischen Priming zu werten. Falls sich dies nicht feststellen lässt, müssen alternative Erklärungen für die Regelhaftigkeit des semantischen Wandels gefunden werden.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 02.10.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
The unidirectionality of semantic changes in grammaticalization: an experimental approach to the asymmetric priming hypothesis
Hilpert Martin, Correia Saavedra David (2018), The unidirectionality of semantic changes in grammaticalization: an experimental approach to the asymmetric priming hypothesis, in English Language and Linguistics, 22(3), 357-380.
Change in modal meanings: Another look at the shifting collocates of "may".
Hilpert Martin (2016), Change in modal meanings: Another look at the shifting collocates of "may"., in Constructions and Frames, 8(1), 66-85.
Meaning change in a petri dish: constructions, semantic vector spaces, and motion charts
Hilpert Martin, Perek Florent (2016), Meaning change in a petri dish: constructions, semantic vector spaces, and motion charts, in Linguistics Vanguard, 1(1), 339-350.
Why are grammatical elements more evenly dispersed than lexical elements? Assessing the roles of frequency and semantic generality
Hilpert Martin, Correia Saavedra David, Why are grammatical elements more evenly dispersed than lexical elements? Assessing the roles of frequency and semantic generality, in Corpora.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Universität Freiburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
KU Leuven Belgium (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Linguistic colloquium University of Mainz Individual talk A quantitative approach to the measurement of grammaticalization 07.11.2016 Mainz, Germany Correia Saavedra David;
ISLE-4 Talk given at a conference Does go prime be going to but not vice versa? An experimental approach to the asymmetric priming hypothesis 18.09.2016 Poznan, Poland Correia Saavedra David;
Societas Linguistica Europaea 2016 Talk given at a conference Can we measure grammaticalization? 31.08.2016 Naples, Italy Correia Saavedra David;
Societas Linguistica Europaea 2016 Talk given at a conference Does go prime be going to but not vice versa? An empirical approach to the asymmetric priming hypothesis 31.08.2016 Naples, Italy Correia Saavedra David; Hilpert Martin;
Mechanisms of Grammatical Change Talk given at a conference Asymmetric priming as a mechanism of grammatical development 02.06.2016 Berlin, Germany Hilpert Martin;
SWELL conference 2016 Talk given at a conference Can grammaticalization be quantified? 11.03.2016 Fribourg, Switzerland Correia Saavedra David;
Linguistic colloquium University of Uppsala Individual talk Meaning change in a petri dish: Constructions, semantic vector spaces, and motion charts 24.09.2015 Uppsala, Sweden Hilpert Martin;
SWELL conference 2015 Talk given at a conference Why are grammatical elements more evenly dispersed than lexical elements? 20.03.2015 Geneva, Switzerland Correia Saavedra David;
Linguistic colloquium Université de Caen Individual talk Can asymmetric priming explain semantic change in grammaticalization? 09.10.2014 Caen, France Hilpert Martin;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
171937 Measurements of Grammaticalization: Developing a quantitative index for the study of grammatical change 01.01.2017 Doc.Mobility

Abstract

How can we explain that meaning change in grammatical forms is highly regular? In a programmatic paper, Jäger and Rosenbach (2008) suggest a psychological explanation in terms of asymmetric priming. Asymmetric priming is a pattern of cognitive association in which one idea strongly evokes another, while that second idea does not evoke the first one with the same force. For instance, given the word lamp, the first association for many speakers is the word light. The reverse is not true: given the word light, many speakers offer the immediate associations sun, sky, or shadow before offering lamp. Asymmetric priming would elegantly explain the observation that many semantic changes in grammar are unidirectional: expressions of spatial relations evolve into markers of temporal relations (the English be going to future), expressions of temporal relations evolve into markers of causal relations (the English causal connector since), and expressions of possession evolve into markers of completion (the English have-perfect). Crucially, the inverse processes are unattested. The suggestion by Jäger and Rosenbach has spawned a lively discussion in theoretical linguistics (Chang 2008, Eckardt 2008, Traugott 2008), but as yet, empirical engagements with the asymmetric priming hypothesis has been very limited. The proposed project has two objectives. First, it will make the asymmetric priming hypothesis more elaborate by including text frequency as a variable. Second, it will test the hypothesis in two studies that use different methodological approaches. The first study relies on behavioral, psycholinguistic data and investigates whether asymmetric priming relations obtain between grammatical forms and their lexical counterparts, i.e. pairs such as keep an eye on (lexical keep) and keep going (grammatical keep). On the asymmetric priming hypothesis, the former should prime the latter, but not vice versa. The second study uses observational, corpus-linguistic data to investigate asymmetric priming relations between different senses of the same word, as in strong fighter vs. strong argument. On the asymmetric priming hypothesis, less frequent senses of a word should prime more frequent senses, but not vice versa. The proposed project hopes to achieve the following three outcomes. First, the empirical results will elucidate whether or not asymmetric priming is a serious contender for an explanation of unidirectionality in grammatical semantic change. Second, the results will determine whether or not the text frequency of linguistic units has a role to play in asymmetric priming and in unidirectional semantic change. Third, and more generally, the project will establish theoretical and methodological connections between the areas of historical linguistics and cognitive psychology. While it is clear that psychological insights must inform accounts of how language changes, and while also data from language change should be of concern to psychologists, collaborations between these two fields remain relatively rare. It is hoped that the analysis of asymmetric priming as a mutual area of interest will encourage a rapprochement of the two fields.
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