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      Probabilistic grammar and constructional predictability: Bayesian generalized additive models of help + ( to) Infinitive in varieties of web-based English


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          The present study investigates the construction with help followed by the bare or to-infinitive in seven varieties of web-based English from Australia, Ghana, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica and the USA. In addition to various factors known from the literature, such as register, minimization of cognitive complexity and avoidance of identity ( horror aequi), it studies the effect of predictability of the infinitive given help and the other way round on the language user’s choice between the constructional variants. These probabilistic constraints are tested in a series of Bayesian generalized additive mixed-effects regression models. The results demonstrate that the to-infinitive is particularly frequent in contexts with low predictability, or, in information-theoretic terms, with high information content. This tendency is interpreted as communicatively efficient behaviour, when more predictable units of discourse get less formal marking, and less predictable ones get more formal marking. However, the strength, shape and directionality of predictability effects exhibit variation across the countries, which demonstrates the importance of the cross-lectal perspective in research on communicative efficiency and other universal functional principles.

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          Most cited references39

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          A Mathematical Theory of Communication

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            brms: An R Package for Bayesian Multilevel Models Using Stan

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              Word lengths are optimized for efficient communication.

              We demonstrate a substantial improvement on one of the most celebrated empirical laws in the study of language, Zipf's 75-y-old theory that word length is primarily determined by frequency of use. In accord with rational theories of communication, we show across 10 languages that average information content is a much better predictor of word length than frequency. This indicates that human lexicons are efficiently structured for communication by taking into account interword statistical dependencies. Lexical systems result from an optimization of communicative pressures, coding meanings efficiently given the complex statistics of natural language use.

                Author and article information

                Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
                Ubiquity Press
                02 May 2018
                : 3
                : 1
                : 55
                [1 ]Leipzig University, IPF 141199, Nikolaistraße 6-10, 04109 Leipzig, DE
                Copyright: © 2018 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                : 09 November 2016
                : 26 January 2018
                Special collection: probabilistic grammars: syntactic variation in a comparative perspective

                General linguistics,Linguistics & Semiotics
                horror aequi,help,complexity,economy,Bayesian regression,iconicity


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