The Role of Frequency and Function in Language Development
Symposium, November 25, 2009
13.30 – 17.30
Senaatszaal, Academie Building, Broerstraat 5, Groningen
Frequency of occurrence is central to the process of learning: the frequency with which a person experiences an event or executes an action plays an significant role in building a mental representation of that event or action. This is an important reason why usage-based approaches to language in particular have considered the frequency
with which linguistic structures are used to be a central factor in the development of language. By now, many frequency-related effects such as the interplay between frequency and grammaticality judgements have been revealed. Therefore, frequency
increasingly finds its way as an explanatory factor also in other linguistic approaches.
At the same time, it seems clear that the communicative or semantic function of a linguistic structure plays a major part in language development as well, and that it is related to frequency. For example, some individual speakers might not use a linguistic structure in spite of a high overall frequency of occurrence in the speech community because the structure does not meet these speakers’ communicative
purposes. This in turn can feed back to these speakers’ representation of the structure and lower the overall frequency of that structure. Another example is the number of linguistic forms used in a language to carve up a given functional domain (e.g., colors or spatial relations). This ratio between linguistic form and semantic function affects
the amount of variation in a language in that domain. Again, this influences the frequency of occurrence, and possibly also the opacity of form-function-mappings and the ease with which linguistic forms may therefore be learnt. The symposium seeks to look at the two factors of frequency and function and illuminate their role.
Six invited speakers will present their work: Heike Behrens, Jack
Hoeksema, Angeliek van Hout, Elena Lieven, Rasmus Steinkrauss and Rosie van Veen. Dan Slobin will moderate the final discussion.
The symposium is supported by the School of Behavioral and Neurosciences Groningen (BCN).