Noun phrase word order across languages reflects simplicity and naturalness

The Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University cordially invites you to a special lecture:

Noun phrase word order across languages reflects simplicity and naturalness” by Jennifer Culbertson (The University of Edinburgh)

Date:  March 16, 2018 at 13.30-14.30

Venue: 401/17 Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Building, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University



Looking across the world’s languages, we can often see that not all possible linguistic patterns are equally common. Explaining why this is the case is a topic of longstanding debate in cognitive science. In this talk, I will focus on one well-studied example, the order of elements in the noun phrase. I will argue that two very general forces–simplicity and naturalness–can largely explain why some noun phrase orders are much more common than others. Simplicity pushes languages to maintain a consistent order of the head noun with respect to different modifying elements (e.g., demonstratives, adjectives, numerals). Naturalness favors alignment between linear order and underlying semantic or conceptual structure. I will outline a series of experiments aimed at confirming the behavioral effects of these forces, and report a cross-linguistic quantitative analysis of corpus data exploring how the semantic representations underlying naturalness in this domain might emerge during development.