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Lexical flexibility in English: A preliminary study

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Abstract

This talk presents preliminary results from my dissertation research on lexical flexibility (the ability for words to be used in multiple parts of speech like noun, verb, and adjective), focusing on data in English.
Lexical flexibility in English: A preliminary study
Daniel W. Hieber
University of California, Santa Barbara
danielhieber.com
10/16/2019
College of William & Mary, Department of Linguistics, Williamsburg, VA
1
What part of speech is friend?
Noun
Verb
Adjective
[Takeapoll]
2
friend as Noun
I got a spooky box from my best friends.
Secrets don't make friends, Luke.
Just think I saw an old college friend on TV meeting Hilary Clinton.
TwitterdatafromW&Mstudents
3
friend as Verb
What's your user? I would love to friend you and look at it when
finished!
If we don't have mutual friends we can't get friended.
I accidentally downloaded Facebook and created a profile and
friended a bunch of people.
4
friend as Adjective
the guy became the national symbol of friend zone in just a day
Facebook just put me in the damn friend zone with my wife
can someone help me with some friend drama?
5
What does the dictionary say?
Dictionary.com: verb, noun
Merriam-Webster: verb, noun
Why not adjectives?
6
Nouns Modifying Nouns
Are they compounds?
health care vs. healthcare
friend zone vs. friendzone
Temptedtoanalyzenounsmodifyingnounsascompounds.Doesthiswork?
7
health care vs. healthcare (Google Books)
Insomecases,nounsmodifyingnounsdobecome compounds.
Butnotineverycase.
8
Nouns Modifying Nouns
Are they compounds?
health care vs. health care
friend zone vs. friendzone
We don’t analyze these as adjectives because:
tradition
the change is unmarked
friendzone doesn’t(yet)appearintheGoogleBookscorpus
Linguistsselectiveabouttheircriteria
Cherrypicktoaccommodate:
tradition
theirtheoreticalperspective
9
Aside
the truth is they friendzone everyone who tries to be with them
just ate two slices of veggie pizza for lunch so basically I'm all
healthed up for at least a month
friendzonedoes appearonTwitter;entire phrasecanbecomelexicalized (anew
meaningfulwordinitself)
healthed – veryunexpecteduseofthiswordasaverb
10
able
N: that feeling of abling to run 22 miles a week
V: always abling and abetting the horses
A: an able mind overcomes challenges
11
time
N: still one of my favorite series of all time
V: I'm so bored in this class that I'm timing how long I can hold my
breath
A: 2 years ago today (or yesterday depending on your time zone)
12
Parts of Speech in English
How common is flexibility in English?
rigid vs. flexible words
lexical vs.grammatical words
Englishissometimesclaimedtoberigid,sometimesflexible
13
A crosslinguistic problem
14
Nuuchahnulth (Wakashan; Pacific Northwest)
1. mamuːk-ma quːʔas-ʔi
working-PRES(INDIC) man-DEF
‘the man is working’
2. quːʔas-ma mamuːk-ʔi
man-PRES(INDIC) working-DEF
‘the working one is a man’
15
Nuuchahnulth (Wakashan; Pacific Northwest)
1. mamuːk-ma quːʔas-ʔi
working-PRES(INDIC) man-DEF
‘the man is working’
2. quːʔas-ma mamuːk-ʔi
man-PRES(INDIC) working-DEF
‘the working one is a man’
Flexibilityispresentforbothwords
16
Central Alaskan Yup’ik (Eskimo-Aleut)
3. angya-qa ‘my boat’
ner’a-qa ‘I am eating it’
angya-a‘his/her boat’
ner’a-a‘he/she/it is eating it’
angya-at ‘their boat’
nera-at ‘they are eating it’
Entireparadigmmatches
17
Central Alaskan Yup’ik
“In the Eskimo mind the line of demarcation between the noun
and the verb seems to be extremely vague, as appears from the
whole structure of the language, and from the fact that the
inflectional endings are, partially at any rate, the same for both
nouns and verbs.” (p. 1057)
Thalbitzer, W. 1911. Eskimo. In Franz Boas (ed.), Handbook of American Indian Languages
(Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 40), 967–1069.
18
Riau Indonesian (Austronesian)
4. ayam makan
chicken eat
The chicken is eating.
The chicken is being eaten.
The chicken is making somebody eat.
Somebody is eating for the chicken.
Somebody is eating where the chicken is.
the chicken that is eating
where the chicken is eating
when the chicken is eating
how the chicken is eating
FamouslyclaimedbyDavidGiltolackpartsofspeechentirely.
19
Mundari (Austroasiatic)
5. buru=ko bai-ke-d-a
mountain=3
PL
.
S
make-
COMPL
-
TR
-
INDIC
‘They made the mountain.’
6. saan=ko buru-ke-d-a
firewood=3
PL
.
S
mountain-
COMPL
-
TR
-
INDIC
‘They heaped up the firewood.’
20
Flexibility with Fully-Inflected Words
7. Chitimacha (isolate; Louisiana)
dzampuyna
‘they usually thrust/spear (with it)’ = ‘a spear’
8. Mohawk (Iroquoian; Ontario / Quebec)
ieráhkhwa’
‘one puts things in with it’ = ‘a container’
Mohawk:verbsshowaclinefromfullylexicalizedtofullyproductive/analyzable;some
wordshavebothuses
Ihaveyettofindalanguagewhereflexibilityhasn’tbeenobservedinsufficientlygreat
amountsthatitmeritscommentintheliteratureoragrammaticaldescription.
21
The Problem of Lexical Flexibility
22
How to analyze lexical flexibility?
conversion / zero-derivation vs. underspecification
lexical flexibility is used in a neutral sense here
conversion– traditionalapproach,favoredbygenerativists/formalists(exception:
DistributedMorphology)
underspecification–newerapproach,graduallygainingproponents
23
What is a word?
lexeme
abstract representation (cognitive or grammatical) of a group of related
wordforms
whatever it is that’s common to those wordforms (usually a stem)
lemma – conventional wordform used to represent a group of
wordforms
keyword: conventional
token – a specific instance of a lexeme in discourse
Determiningwhattwousesofaformcountasthesamelexemeistricky.
Whatwe’reinterestedinwhenwe’retalkingaboutwhatcountsasinstancesofthesame
“word”isactuallyalexeme.
lexeme –abstractrepresentation(cognitiveorgrammatical)ofrelatedwordforms;
whateveritisthat’scommontothosewordforms(usuallyastem)
example:help,helps,helped
example:eat,ate,eaten
example:am,is,are,was,were,be
lemma /headword –conventionalwordformusedtorepresentthisbundle;justamatterof
convention
24
How to determine wordhood?
words have many senses
Ifawordhasmanydifferentsenses,wheredowedrawthelinebetweenonelexemeand
thenext?
25
Senses of run
Dictionary.com lists 148 senses of run, some nouns, some verbs
(but again no adjectives)
fast pedestrian motion: I run every day
conduct a political campaign: he ran a fair campaign
come undone: these stockings run easily
operate or function: does it run well?
get or become: the well ran dry
Shouldwecountalloftheseasthesame“word”/lexeme?Wheredowedrawtheline?
26
How to determine wordhood?
words have many senses
grammatical categories vs. cognitive associations
categories are prototypal
derived words have unpredictable meanings
Cognitiveliteraturesuggeststhatwehavecognitiveassociationsbetweenhistorically
relatedorsynchronicallysimilarwordforms,evenifthey’retotallydifferentlexemes.
responsetimes
primingeffects
Wedo havesomeassociationbetweenthemanysensesofrun –probablyafamily
network.
prototypal – Theyclusteraroundaprototype
prototypicalnoun:man
nonprototypicalnoun:running
Prototypicalityestablishedthrough:
listingexperiments
response/recalltime
corpusfrequency
historicalprimacy(usually)
Predictability–sincethemeaninghaschanged(enough),itmustbeanewword
BUT,somelanguageshavecasesofconversionwhicharepredictableaswellascases
27
whicharenot(Mandinka)(probablymostlanguages)
27
Semantic Predictability
brother vs. brethren
cloth vs. clothes
new vs. news
(hunting) blind vs. (window) blinds
custom vs. customs
arm vs. arms
wood vs. woods
Inflectionalsocancreateasignificantshiftinmeaning
brother,cloth –historicaldivergence
blindwindowinterpretationnotavailableinthesingular
custom – internationaltravelsensenotavailableinthesingular
arm – militaryforcesensenotavailableinthesingular
wood – singularandpluralrefertodifferenttypesofthings(amaterialvs.acollection)
28
Semantic Predictability
inflectional vs. derivational uses of the same morpheme
English –ing progressive / gerund
the running man (inflectional)
the running of the bulls (derivational)
Chitimacha –ma pluractional
guxma- ‘eat (multiple things)’ (inflectional)
haakxtema- ‘design’ (from haakxte- ‘draw’) (derivational)
Can’tevenbesurewhenamorphemeisactinginflectionallyvs.derivationally
Thatis,wedon’tknowwhenitbecomesanewword
29
English –ing: Inflection vs. Derivation
Notethecaptionhere:Thedifferencebetweenaverbandanadjective
30
How to determine wordhood?
bad question
good questions
How common is flexibility / unmarked derivation?
Does the frequency / degree of flexibility vary from word to word?
Does the frequency / degree of flexibility vary from language to language?
Why are some instances of derivation marked, and others not? What’s special
about the (un)marked ones?
Givenwhatwe(don’t)knowaboutlexicalcategories,Ithinkthisisanunhelpfulquestion.
Weknowlexicalrelatednessisgradientandcomplex.Canwesaysomethingaboutit
anyway?
Weshouldtreatlexicalflexibilityasanobjectofstudyinitsownright,withoutassuming
anythingabouttherelatednessofdifferentusesofaword.
Yes. Thesearemylongtermresearchquestions.Thisresearchprojectaimstotacklejust
thefirstquestion.
31
This Study
32
Research Questions
1. How flexible are the words of English, and English generally?
2. Does flexibility correlate with semantic domain?
Question2isaninitialattempttodeterminewhatmightmotivateunmarkedconversion.
33
Determining Degree of Flexibility
1. For a given word, count how often that word is used as a
noun, verb, or adjective.
2. Calculate a flexibility score for that word – how evenly
distributed its uses are across different categories.
3. Apply this method to each word in the language (or a
representative sample of them)
34
Data & Methods
Spoken portion of the Open American National Corpus (OANC)
(~3.5 million words) (not Twitter)
Randomly selected wordforms from 100 different frequency bins
Created a list of every instance of those 100 words (~380,000
tokens total)
Annotated each token for its function: noun, verb, adjective
frequencyvs.corpusdispersion–[mentionifyouhavesometimetofill]
Annotated16outofthe100lexemescompletelysofar
35
Results
36
able
N: [none]
V: Are you able?
A: most of the able bodied Americans
Noun:WesawaTwitterexampleearlier,butnoneappearintheOANC.Theformabling
doesn’tappearonce.
Noticethatthere’salreadyamarkedderivationforthis:ability
Thisphenomenonissometimescalledblocking,thoughit’sunclearifthisisactually
what’shappeninghere
Vastmajorityofinstancesofable areattributivepredicates,whichisinterestingbecause
able ishistoricallyanadjective
Verbalusesareduetocopulaconstructions,whicharestructurallyequivalenttoinflected
verbs
Iamahead
Iamrunning
AlmostanythingcanbepredicatedinEnglish,unmarked
Omnipredicativity – originallyproposedforNahuatl(Aztec)
appearstobeaprevalentfeatureofall,possiblymost,languages
37
Omnipredicativity
38
able
39
ahead
N: [none]
V: I’m ahead of him right now
A: [none]
Adverbslikeahead weregenerallytricky.Frequentlytheyseemlikenounsfunctioning
adverbiallyorfunctioning tomodify.Historicallythey’reoftennounsorlocativephrases(at
head)
Igotaheadofhim (reference)
thenextguyaheadofme (modification)
Didn’tcountcasesliketheseunlesstheywerereallyclear,butitmakesmethinkadverbs
areanotherareawherewe’readheringtotraditionalwaysofanalyzingtermsevenwhen
theyaren’tappropriatetotheactualdata.
40
ahead
41
anything
N: I was never exposed to anything of the sort
V: it’s anything in that hobby line
A: [none]
Notsurprising.Howeveritshouldbenotedthatyoucanfindmodifyingandverbal
examplesonline,notjustforanything,butforjustaboutanything!
V: Sheloadsmedownwithgoodiesthatshesearchesoutasnotbeingsprayed,shot,
orartificially anythinged
A: thatwasn'tverycountryor veryanything,really
42
anything
43
back
N: hand print on the back of her leg
V: as I’m backing off I’m still keeping an eye on it
A: when I look out my back door
Veryeasytofindinstancesofallthreefunctionsforback,evenignoreattributive
predicativecases
44
back
45
believe
N: I don’t have any choice but to believe it
N: all those feelings of believing
V: I don’t believe she read a lot
A: the believing scientist
N: infinitivesaretraditionallyanalyzedasaverbalinflection,butinfinitivesaretypologically
nounlike,andthey’reoftenconsideredanominalformofaverb
46
believe
47
best
N: summer is the best
V: the new crew was best
A: he is one of the best actors
Fortheattributivepredicativeuses,I’dliketogobackandrecodethemasadistinct
category.
V: couldalsohavebeentobestsomeone,butthatusedidn’tappearintheOANC
Futureresearchquestion:Canwedeterminetheprototypicaluseofawordbythe
distributionofitsfunctions?
adjective:primarilyadjective,somenoun
noun:primarilynoun,someverb,someadjective
verb:primarilyverb,somenoun,littletonoadjective
48
best
49
bill
N: the bill always comes in
V: they could bill Uncle Sam for that hospital care
A: bills wise we divide everything
50
bill
51
business
N: we were in the retail milk business
V: it’s business and it’s serious
A: here’s my business card
52
business
53
PreliminaryResultsforEnglish
MostwordsofEnglishdonotexhibitmuchflexibility–onefunctionpredominates
Theresultsarealittleboring!Butthatinitselfisinteresting!
Thissayssomethingaboutlinguists’perceptionofEnglishasaflexiblelanguage
Linguists’perceptionsseemtobebasedonstriking,standoutcasesratherthanactual
data
(Almost)allwordsofEnglishexhibitsome flexibility
Theonlywordwhichis100%consistentinitsdistributionisahead,whichistypically
thoughttobeanadverb!
ResultswouldprobablylookverydifferentifIincludedadverbialuses
verbshavenominalformsbydefault:verb+nounflexibility
anythingcanbepredicatedusingacopulaconstruction:omnipredicativity
back isthemostevenlydistributedbetweenthethreefunctions
Arebodyparttermsmoreflexiblethanothersemanticdomains?Why?
Potentialanswer:Thewiderangeofspatialandinstrumentalmetaphorsthatbodypart
termsareusedfor
54
Thecategoriesseemtobegradient– mostwordsarenotclearcut.
Whichofthesearenouns?Verbs?Adjectives?
55
Preliminary Results from English
Most words of English are not especially flexible
One function tends to predominate for any given word
All (?) words of English exhibit some flexibility
Possible blocking effects (e.g. ability the able)
Body part terms may exhibit more flexibility than other
semantic domains
56
Next Steps
Add data from Nuuchahnulth (and other languages)
Annotate more than 100 words per language
Code data for semantic domain, especially body part terms
Investigate historical development of flexible uses
Investigate correlations between frequency and flexibility
Diachrony
Specificsenses ofawordjumpthePOSboundary
Considerfriend:Whenusedasaverb,itrefersspecificallytosocialmedia
Notallofthesensesoffriend immediatelyjumpedthePOSboundaryalongwiththis
sense
57
Thanks!
58
Discussion:HowIgotinterestedinthistopic
POStaggingEnglishforRosettaStone
lexicalcategoriescoursewithElaineFrancisatLSAInstitute2011
Idon’ttypicallyworkwithEnglish– thisisjustabaselineforworkwithotherlanguages
59
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