This paper examines, on the basis of a longitudinal corpus of 50 early modern authors, how change at the aggregate level of the community interacts with variation and change at the micro-level of the individual language user. In doing so, this study aims to address the methodological gap between collective change and entrenchment, that is, the gap between language as a social phenomenon and the cognitive processes responsible for the continuous reorganization of linguistic knowledge in individual speakers. Taking up the case of the prepositional passive, this study documents a strong community-wide increase in use that is accompanied by increasing schematicity. A comparison of the 50 authors reveals that regularities arising at the macro-level conceal highly complex and variable individual behavior, aspects of which may be explained by studying the larger (social) context in which these individuals operate (e. g., age cohorts, community of practice, biographical insights). Further analysis, focusing on how authors use the prepositional passive in unique and similar ways, elucidates the role of small individual biases in long-term change. Overall, it is demonstrated that language change is an emergent phenomenon that results from the complex interaction between individual speakers, who themselves may change their linguistic behavior to varying degrees.
We investigate the order in which speakers produce the proper names of couples they know personally in English and Japanese, two languages with markedly different constituent word orders. Results demonstrate that speakers of both languages tend to produce the name of the person they feel closer to before the name of the other member of the couple (N = 180). In this way, speakers’ unique personal histories give rise to a remarkably systematic linguistic generalization in both English and Japanese. Insofar as closeness serves as an index of cognitive accessibility, the current work demonstrates that systematicity emerges from a domain-general property of memory.
For a long time, linguists more or less denied the existence of individual differences in grammatical knowledge. While recent years have seen an explosion of research on individual differences, most usage-based research has failed to address this issue and has remained reluctant to study the synergy between individual and community grammars. This paper focuses on individual differences in linguistic knowledge and processing, and examines how these differences can be integrated into a more comprehensive constructionist theory of grammar. The examination is guided by the various challenges and opportunities that may be extracted from scattered research that exists across disciplines touching on these matters, while also presenting some new data that illustrate how differentiation between individuals can improve models of long-term language change. The paper also serves as the introduction to this special issue of Cognitive Linguistics, which collects seven contributions from various linguistic disciplines focusing on key aspects of individuals’ grammars.
This study investigates the extent to which there is individuality in how structural variation is conditioned over time. Earlier research already classified the diachronically unstable gerund variation as involving a high fraction of mixed-usage speakers throughout the change, whereby the proportion of the conservative variant versus the progressive variant as observable in the linguistic output of individual language users superficially resembles the mean proportion as observable at the population level. However, this study sets out to show that there can still be heterogeneity within such a centralized population in terms of how each individual conditions the observed variation. A random forest and conditional inference tree analysis of over 14,000 gerunds uttered by nineteen seventeenth-century authors is presented to show that, while the most important language-internal factors conditioning the gerund variation are adopted by (and shared between) all authors, we can still attest inter-individual variation (i) at lower levels of variable importance, and (ii) in the breadth of the range of contexts individual authors employ to condition the attested variation.
While many linguists view language as either a cognitive or a social phenomenon, it is clearly both: a language can live only in individual minds, but it is learned from examples of utterances produced by speakers engaged in communicative interaction. In other words, language is what (Keller 1994. On language change: The invisible hand in language. London: Taylor & Francis) calls a “phenomenon of the third kind”, emerging from the interaction of a micro-level and a macro-level. Such a dual perspective helps us understand some otherwise puzzling phenomena, including “non-psychological” generalizations, or situations where a pattern which is arguably present in a language is not explicitly represented in most speakers’ minds. This paper discusses two very different examples of such generalizations, genitive marking on masculine nouns in Polish and some restrictions on questions with long-distance dependencies in English. It is argued that such situations are possible because speakers may represent “the same” knowledge at different levels of abstraction: while a few may have extracted an abstract generalization, others approximate their behaviour by relying on memorised exemplars or lexically specific patterns. Thus, a cognitively realistic usage-based construction grammar needs to distinguish between patterns in the usage of a particular speech community (a social phenomenon) and patterns in speakers’ minds (a cognitive phenomenon).
This paper explores the added value of studying intra- and inter-speaker variation in grammaticalisation based on idiolect corpora. It analyses the usage patterns of the English let alone construction in a self-compiled William Faulkner corpus against the backdrop of aggregated community data. Vast individual differences (early Faulkner vs. late Faulkner vs. peers) in frequencies of use are observed, and these frequency differences correlate with different degrees of grammaticalisation as measured in terms of host-class and syntactic context expansion. The corpus findings inform general issues in current cognitive-functional research, such as the from-corpus-to-cognition issue and the cause/consequence issue of frequency. They lend support to the usage-based view of grammaticalisation as a lifelong, frequency-sensitive process of cognitive automation. To substantiate this view, this paper proposes a self-feeding cycle of constructional generalisation that is driven by the interplay of frequency, entrenchment, partial sanction and habituation.
Because they involve individual-level cognitive processes, psychological explanations of linguistic phenomena are in principle testable against individual behaviour. The present study draws on patterns of individual variation in corpus data to test explanations of productivity. Linguistic patterns are predicted to become more productive with higher type frequencies and lower token frequencies. This is because the formation of abstract mental representations is encouraged by varied types but counteracted by automation of high-frequency types. The predictions are tested for English -ly and -ness-derivation, as used by 698 individual journalists in the New York Times Annotated Corpus and 171 members of Parliament in the Hansard Corpus. Linear regression is used to model individual variation in productivity, in relation to type and token frequency, as well as several other predictor variables. While the expected effects are observed, there is also robust evidence of an interaction effect between type and token frequency, indicating that productivity is highest for patterns with many types and not-too-infrequent tokens. This fits best with a view of entrenchment as both a conservative and creative force in language. Further, some variation remains irreducibly individual and is not explained by currently known predictors of productivity.