Monday, October 15, 2007

More on Frequency

Yesterday, Sally Thomason at Language Log posted a critique of recently published research regarding frequency and language change (I’ve noted one perhaps trivial relationship between frequency and linguistic structure here). In challenging the claim that ‘frequently used words are resistant to change’, she points out that frequency is NOT an all powerful mechanism. Crucially, she points out the following:

regular sound change is indeed blind to frequency and all other nonphonetic contextual factors. So it is nonsense to say that frequent words resist change unless one qualifies the statement to exclude regular sound change.

The role of frequency in various linguistic processes has become a hot topic in linguistics. As usual, the jury is far from in. A good primer is the collection in Bybee and Hopper’s Frequency and the Emergence of Linguistic Structure.

Finally, Thomason ends her post with a fair point, that is best kept in mind when non-linguist try to “fix” the problems we silly linguist failed to solve:

Failing to learn something about a field one wishes to contribute to is all too likely to lead to reinvention of the wheel at best, and to a garbage in/garbage out problem at worst.

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