ABSTRACT

The paper sketches a novel, usage-based framework – Diachronic Probabilistic Grammar (DPG) – to analyze variation and change in diachrony. The approach builds on previous work in the Probabilistic Grammar tradition (see, for example, Bresnan 2007; Bresnan and Ford 2010) demonstrating, based on converging experimental and observational evidence, that syntactic knowledge is to some extent probabilistic, and that language users have excellent predictive abilities. What takes center stage in the approach is how contextual predictors (such as, for example, the principle of end weight) constrain linguistic variation. DPG is specifically interested in the extent to which such probabilistic constraints are (un)stable in the course of time. To highlight the diagnostic potential of the DPG framework, the paper explores three case studies: the development of the alternation between non-finite and finite complementation in the Late Modern English period, recent changes in the genitive alternation in the late 20th century, and a cross-constructional analysis of parallelisms in the development of the genitive and the dative alternation in the Late Modern English period.

KEYWORD

historical linguistics, probabilistic grammar, corpus linguistics, dative alternation, genitive alternation, complementation

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