This study takes a close look at four-noun compounds in English and German. A comparison of 200 items from each language reveals no structural differences. The preponderant type places the major constituent boundary between the second and the third morpheme, thereby creating a symmetrical hierarchical structure. Left-branching occurs more frequently than right-branching in consistently branching compounds. No such bias emerges in centre-branching types. Flat structures occur both at the upper and lower level of embedding, though at a very low frequency. The main stress marks the major constituent boundary in symmetrical, though not in asymmetrical compounds in English whereas it only marks the major constituent boundary in right-branching compounds in German. The German interfix <s> is indicative of minor rather than major constituent boundaries. A unified account of four-member compounds is proposed whose point of departure is the perceptual strategies that are employed during the comprehension of the much more frequent two-member compounds. These processing strategies are extended to the larger complexes such that the structural patterns which are compatible with these strategies are favoured. By contrast, the structural patterns which induce a garden-path effect are disfavoured.
This paper presents an analysis of a sample of intentional deviations from the typical stress pattern of German words. These deviations are described as stress shifts in which the main stress is in a different position to the norm. This process is optional, mainly found in media speech and used for emphatic purposes. All stress shifts involve an interchange of primary and secondary stress, thereby demonstrating their sensitivity to a prosodic-similarity constraint. Stress retractions by far outnumber stress advancements, which can be jointly explained by a probabilistic association of the main stress and the word-initial position in language structure and an anticipatory bias in the language production system. Stress shifts show a strong overrepresentation of adjectives because this word class codes evaluative aspects most naturally and it is evaluations that speakers prefer to emphasize. From a social-psychological perspective, stress shifts are claimed to be a means by which speakers may boast their knowledge and, from a rhetorical perspective, a strategy of making the event being talked about more spectacular. Stress shifts are minority patterns in the sense that the constraints on them are so strong that only relatively few lexical items are eligible. This raises the issue of what speakers do with those items which they wish to emphasize but which do not lend themselves readily to stress shifting. Whether they turn to alternative means of expression or whether they leave their intentions unexpressed remains to be determined.
It is well-known that both similarity and contrast play an important role in language. What is much less clear, however, is why one aspect of language is sensitive to similarity while another is under the sway of contrast. This article develops a theory that allows one to predict under which circumstances similarity wins out over contrast and vice versa. Five diverse areas of language, to wit language structure, change, use, acquisition, and loss are scrutinized in an effort to erect this theory on a fairly broad empirical basis. In all of these areas, the paradigmatic axis is found to generate similarity effects whereas the syntagmatic axis gives rise to both similarity and contrast. Whether similarity or contrast prevails on the syntagmatic dimension depends on the linear distance between the critical units. When these are very close together, contrast predominates. With increasing distance, however, contrast gives way to similarity, with a hypersimilarity effect occurring briefly in between. These results are interpreted within a model in which linguistic structure and change are understood as a response to processing strategies and biases. The representational side of the model provides a measure of determining similarity and contrast relationships between linguistic units, whereas the processing side is responsible for the strength of similarity and contrast in specific constellations. While the theory is detailed for the phonological domain, it holds the potential of being more widely applicable.