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Cognitive Linguistics

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Volume 22, Issue 1 (Jan 2011)


Corpus evidence of the viability of statistical preemption

Adele E. Goldberg
  • Princeton University
  • Email:
Published Online: 2011-05-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.006


The present paper argues that there is ample corpus evidence of statistical preemption for learners to make use of. In the case of argument structure constructions, a verbi is preempted from appearing in a construction A, CxA, if and only if the following probability is high: P(CxB|context that would be suitable for CxA and verbi). For example, the probability of hearing a preemptive construction, given a context that would otherwise be well-suited for the ditransitive is high for verbs like explain that overwhelmingly appear in the dative, and low for verbs like tell that readily appear in the ditransitive. Strength of statistical preemption is determined both by this probability, and by the frequency (ln (F)) of a verb in a preemptive construction when the context is at least as well suited to the preempted construction. The critiques of preemption by Stefanowitsch (Cognitive Linguistics 19: 513–531, 2008, this volume) are countered by arguing that the relevant probabilities were not considered. Moreover, we find evidence that constructions are somewhat less constrained when yoked to non-alternating verbs, as Stefanowitsch (cf. this volume) suggests should be the case.

Keywords:: construction learning; dative; ditransitive; statistical preemption

About the article

Received: 2010-05-21

Revised: 2010-07-27

Published Online: 2011-05-17

Published in Print: 2011-02-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.006. Export Citation

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