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Saying nothing: Frequency effects in Dominican Spanish null subjects Cristina Martinez Sanz (U of Ottawa) & Gerard Van Herk (Memorial U)

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Presentation on theme: "Saying nothing: Frequency effects in Dominican Spanish null subjects Cristina Martinez Sanz (U of Ottawa) & Gerard Van Herk (Memorial U)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Saying nothing: Frequency effects in Dominican Spanish null subjects Cristina Martinez Sanz (U of Ottawa) & Gerard Van Herk (Memorial U)

2 The spark: “every aspect of language can profitably be re- examined in light of the important frequency effects” (Bybee 2002) …but most work so far is on phonology

3 For example… intervocalic /d/ (Bybee, 2002; Díaz-Campos & Gradoville, 2011) coronal stop deletion (Bayley & Loudermilk, 2008; Bybee 2001, 2002; Walker 2012) lenition of Spanish syllable final /r/ (Díaz- Campos, 2005, 2006) syllable final /s/ (Brown, 2009; Fife-Muriel, 2009)

4 Some studies find frequency effects, some don’t But, very little work on frequency effects in syntax

5 Today’s variable Null subject in Spanish, aka “subject personal pronoun” (SPP) variation For example: yo/0 te voy a hacer una historia buena ‘I’m going to tell you a good story’

6 A widely studied variable… …but not with respect to frequency

7 Dialectal differences Factor groups: stable across dialects Factor group rankings: -Person is the first ranked factor group in Caribbean dialects, whereas it is overriden by discourse- related constraints (switch reference) in non- Caribbean dialects (Otheguy et al. 2007, Orozco & Guy 2008, Martínez Sanz 2011).

8 Frequency effects Erker & Guy (2012) look at Mexican and Dominican Spanish speakers in New York City 12 informants, 4916 tokens “Frequent” forms (N=13; each form that makes up more than 1% of the token file (N=1,120) Frequency has no direct role, but it influences whether other factors play a role (activation) and/or how much (amplification)

9 E&G’s findings Activated: morphological regularity, semantic class, person/number Amplified: TMA, switch reference

10 Theoretical assumption Speakers need a certain level of familiarity with a form to figure out the probabilistic constraints on variant choice in that context – It’s an exemplar thing

11 Bayley (2013) Mexican Spanish speakers in Texas, California 29 informants, 8676 tokens Tested E&G, threw in a couple more factor groups 19 frequent forms (N=2612)

12 Bayley’s findings Amplified: Semantic class (like E&G) Weakened: TMA, switch reference, person/number, lexical aspect (opposite of E&G) So frequency doesn’t activate or amplify constraints in this data set, contrary to what Erker & Guy (2012) predict Frequency does have a (weak) independent effect, given a large enough data set

13 Why replicate again? Maybe we can resolve these differences We have access to non-contact data – And contact with English might account for the wonkiness of E&G and Bayley’s findings We have access to Dominican Spanish data – This variety is famously variable, with higher rates of overt subjects than elsewhere – And in more contexts (Martínez Sanz 2011)

14 The data 25 interviews, 2008, Dominican Republic

15 Data extraction 34 speakers First 200 tokens per speaker 4567 tokens – after exclusions, other variants, etc. 835 frequent-form tokens

16 Frequent verb forms Verb formN% corpus% null subject tengo (I have) tenía (I had) es (s/he is) voy (I go) estaba (I was) iba (s/he used to go) fui (I went) sé (I know) era (s/he was) digo (I say) dije (I said)

17 Other (linguistic) constraints Switch reference – Bayley & Pease-Alvarez 1996, 1997; Bayley et al. 2012; Cameron 1995, 1996; Flores-Ferrán 2004; Otheguy & Zentella 2012; Silva- Corvalán 1994 Person/number – Bayley & Pease-Alvarez 1996, 1997; Cameron 1992, 1996; Erker & Guy 2012; Flores-Ferrán 2004; Otheguy et al. 2007; Otheguy & Zentella 2012 Tense/mood/aspect – Silva-Corvalán 1994; Bayley & Pease-Alvarez 1997; Bayley et al Ambiguity re person – Hochberg 1986; Cameron 1993 Verb semantics – Travis 2007

18 Interactions Previous studies have coded for different things But many of these overlap – TMA and form ambiguity – Semantic features and lexical aspect – In Bayley, subject type and stativity interact with frequency

19 Factor groups coded Person/number of the subject – 1/2/3, singular/plural, plus 2 nd indefinite TMA of the verb (~ambiguity) – Preterit, present & related, other Semantic features of the verb (~lexical aspect) Reference – Same or switch Form frequency – Tengo and tiene are different forms

20 Findings (See also table in handout!) Note that null subject is the application value

21 Subject Type (Person/Number) All dataFrequent formsInfrequent forms First plural (nosotros/as).82No data.81 Second + third plural (ellos/as/ustedes).82No data.81 Third singular (el/ella/usted/uno) First singular (yo) Second singular non-specific (tu/usted).19No data.19 Second singular specific (tu/usted).12No data.11 RANGE702070

22 Verb TMA (Ambiguity) All dataFrequent formsInfrequent forms Preterit and indefinite Present (and future and similar) Imperfect, conditional, subjunctive RANGE151015

23 Verb semantics (Lexical Aspect) All dataFrequent formsInfrequent forms Speech act Motion Other Copula Psychological Perception RANGE232022

24 Switch Reference All dataFrequent formsInfrequent forms Same referent Switch referent RANGE2223

25 All tokens together All usual factor groups are significant – Direction virtually identical to earlier (Caribbean Spanish) studies Frequency is not significant – i.e., higher-frequency items are not more or less likely to have null subjects – As in E&G and Bayley (more or less)

26 Infrequent verb forms Behave almost exactly like the full data set Because they are the full data set, more or less!

27 Frequent verb forms Same effects as full data set, very slightly weaker One difference: Person/Number: – Because there were no frequent forms in plurals or second person, and those were the strongest constraints in the full data set – Similar effects in Bayley, Erker & Guy

28 Frequent verb forms TMA (Ambiguity) -Very slightly weaker effects Verb semantics (Lexical aspect) -very slightly stronger effects Switch reference -No differences

29 So… Frequency alone doesn’t matter – …although for this variable, nobody has said that it should Frequency doesn’t amplify or activate any other constraints

30 Three studies, three different findings Why?

31 1. Speech community differences Dialect differences – Mexican Spanish has less productive overt subject pronoun system Contact – Previous studies were based on Spanish speakers in contact with English – Their constraint systems might be eroded in infrequent contexts (a Nancy Dorian thing)

32 2. Data collection differences: Is this all lexically driven? If frequency is determined based on the corpus, topic and interlocutors could affect which verb forms are frequent. The Bayley interviews are about language choices, so verba dicendi are frequent What’s the theoretical justification for this method? Surely what matters is which forms are frequent in a speaker’s cognitive system

33 3. Similarities across corpora: are we measuring frequency wrong? Even if frequent forms vary from corpus to corpus, a number of forms appear in all three corpora. In the three data sets, most frequent forms are in the first and third person singular, and they include a lot of statives, which trigger overt subject insertion.

34 Further research: redefining frequency Person -Should we look at different Persons separately, given that they have very different properties? Verb Forms and Verb Types -Frequent verb forms include verbs that bear very different properties. -Should we look at how frequency affects verb types, not just verb forms?

35 Further research: redefining frequency Frequency might not work the same in phonology (where most frequency work has been carried out) as in syntax. Given the conflicting results in SPP frequency studies, we might want to explore different ways of measuring frequency in syntax (by lemma, form, collocation?)

36 Conclusion Maybe there’s no frequency effect Maybe there is, but we haven’t yet figured out how to find it

37 Thanks Bob Bayley (and indirectly Greg Guy and Danny Erker), for sharing work in progress The people in the Dominican who shared their language with Cristina

38 Contact us Gerard: Cristina:


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