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Probabilistic indigenization effects at the lexis–syntax interface

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 June 2019

Department of English and German, University of Santiago de Compostela, Avenida de Castelao (Campus Norte), 15782 Santiago de Compostela, Spain,
English Department, University of Zurich, Plattenstrasse 47, 8032Zürich, Switzerland,
Department of English Language and Linguistics, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, BirminghamB15 2TT, United Kingdom,
Continental AG,


Szmrecsanyi et al. (2016) define probabilistic indigenization as the process whereby probabilistic constraints shape variation patterns in different ways, which eventually leads to more heterogeneity in the constraints governing syntactic variation across different varieties of English. The present study extends our knowledge of the heterogeneity of probabilistic grammars by sketching a corpus-based variationist method for calculating the similarity between varieties thereby drawing inspiration from the comparative sociolinguistics literature. Based on linguistic material from the International Corpus of English, we ascertain the degree of regional variability of five probabilistic constraints on the genitive, dative, particle placement and subject pronoun omission alternations across three varieties of English, namely British, Indian and Singapore English. Our results indicate that, of the four alternations under study, the genitive alternation is the most homogeneous one from a regional perspective, followed – in increasing order of heterogeneity – by subject pronoun omission, dative and particle placement alternations. On the basis of these findings, we evaluate claims in the literature according to which the extent of probabilistic indigenization is proportional to the lexical specificity of the syntactic phenomenon under study, a hypothesis that is borne out by our data.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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Generous financial support from the following institutions is gratefully acknowledged: Regional Government of Galicia (grants no. ED431B 2017/12 and ED431D 2017/09); Spanish Ministry of Innovation, Science and Universities (grants no. FFI2017-86884-P, FFI2014-52188-P and BES-2015-071233); European Regional Development Fund; and the Research Foundation Flanders (grant no. G.0C59.13N). We would further like to express our gratitude to the editors and copy-editors of English Language and Linguistics, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Thanks are also due to Benedikt Szmrecsanyi and Daniela Pettersson-Traba for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article. The usual disclaimers apply.



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