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Folia Linguistica

Acta Societatis Linguisticae Europaeae

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Volume 50, Issue 2


Constructional contamination: How does it work and how do we measure it?

Dirk Pijpops
  • Corresponding author
  • Flanders Research Foundation (FWO)
  • Research Unit QLVL, University of Leuven, Blijde Inkomststraat 21, P.O. Box 3308, 3000 BE-Leuven, Belgium
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Freek Van de Velde
Published Online: 2016-11-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/flin-2016-0020


In this article, we introduce the effect of “constructional contamination”. In constructional contamination, a subset of the instances of a target construction deviate in their realization, due to a superficial resemblance they share with instances of a contaminating construction. We claim that this contaminating effect bears testimony to the hypothesis that language users do not always execute a full parse while interpreting and producing sentences. Instead, they may rely on what has been called “shallow parsing”, i. e., chunking the utterances into large, unanalyzed exemplars that may extend across constituent borders. We propose several measures to quantify constructional contamination in corpus data. To evaluate these measures, the Dutch partitive genitive is taken under scrutiny as a target construction of constructional contamination. In this case study, it is shown that neighboring constructions play a crucial role in determining the presence or absence of the -s suffix among instances of the partitive genitive. The different measures themselves, however, are not construction-specific, and can readily be used to track constructional contamination in other case studies as well.

Keywords: constructional contamination; shallow parsing; exemplar; partitive genitive; mixed-effects generalized linear models


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About the article

Received: 2015-11-10

Revised: 2016-02-22

Revised: 2016-04-06

Accepted: 2016-05-31

Published Online: 2016-11-08

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Folia Linguistica, Volume 50, Issue 2, Pages 543–581, ISSN (Online) 1614-7308, ISSN (Print) 0165-4004, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/flin-2016-0020.

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