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Cognitive indigenization effects in the English dative alternation

  • Melanie Röthlisberger EMAIL logo , Jason Grafmiller and Benedikt Szmrecsanyi
From the journal Cognitive Linguistics


We advance theory formation in cognitive sociolinguistics by exploring the extent to which language users’ probabilistic grammar varies regionally. For this purpose, we investigate the effects of constraints that influence the choice between the two syntactic variants in the well-known dative alternation (I give Mary a book vs. I give a book to Mary) across nine post-colonial varieties of English. Using mixed-effects logistic regression and adopting a large-scale comparative perspective, we illustrate that on the one hand, stability in probabilistic grammars prevails across speakers of diverse regional and cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, traces of indigenization are found in those contexts where shifting usage frequencies in language-internal variation seem to have led to regional differences between users’ probabilistic grammar(s). Within a psycholinguistically grounded model of probabilistic grammar, we interpret these results from various explanatory perspectives, including language contact phenomena, second language acquisition, and semantic variation and change.


Funding by the Research Foundation Flanders (grant no. G.0C59.13N) is gratefully acknowledged. We would like to thank Benedikt Heller for his help in the annotation process, Dirk Geeraerts and Marianne Hundt for insightful comments on an early version of this paper, Christy Ha for her thorough proof-reading, and three anonymous reviewers and the editors for their helpful comments and suggestions. The usual disclaimers apply.


Table 5:

Overall proportion of dative tokens by variety and variant.

Varietyditransitive dativeprepositional dativeTotal
CanE630 (73.3 %)230 (26.7 %)860
BrE609 (73.9 %)215 (26.1 %)824
HKE794 (66.1 %)407 (33.9 %)1201
IndE563 (56.1 %)440 (43.9 %)1003
IrE611 (74.2 %)212 (25.8 %)823
JamE665 (73.2 %)243 (26.8 %)908
NZE699 (71.3 %)282 (28.7 %)981
PhiE619 (65.9 %)321 (34.1 %)940
SinE735 (72.8 %)274 (27.2 %)1009
Table 6:

Overall distribution of dative tokens by verb and variant.

Table 7:

Division of the subregisters in the ICE corpora into spoken formal (SpokForm), spoken informal (SpokInf), written formal (WritForm) and written informal (WritInf).

RegisterSubregisters in ICE
SpokFormpublic dialogues, scripted monologues
SpokInfprivate dialogues, unscripted monologues
WritFormacademic writing, popular writing, instructional writing
WritInfstudent writing, letters, reportage, persuasive writing, creative writing


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Received: 2016-5-10
Revised: 2017-2-28
Accepted: 2017-3-17
Published Online: 2017-10-21
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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