Dissertation project: Language Change and (ir)regularization
How does human mind represent morphological knowledge? Does human language system exploit two cognitive mechanisms (rules and storage) or a single mechanism (either rules or storage)? This study focuses on language change in an attempt to answer to this question by investigating movements in the English verb and noun systems over time to see whether the verbal and nominal changes are unidirectional (towards regularization) or bidirectional (towards both regularization and irregularization).
The acquisition of the inflectional expressions can be illustrated from two different approaches: single-mechanism approaches (Chomsky and Halle?s 1968; Halle and Mohanan 1985; Rumelhart and McClelland 1988; MacWhinney and Leinbach 1991) and dual-mechanism approaches (Chialant & Caramazza 1995, Schreuder & Baayen 1995, Clahsen 1999, Pinker 1999, among others). Single mechanism approaches can be either rule-based single-mechanism models (all inflected words are generated by rules) or associative single-mechanism models (all inflected words are stored and processed within a single associative system using distributed representations). Dual-mechanism approaches, combining the core features of the two previous models, claim that irregular words are processed through stored full-form representations in the mental lexicon, while regular ones are computed by rules. Diachronically, the number of irregular verbs in English has steady declined over the last millennium. Language history and mathematical modeling suggest that the English irregular verbs will generally evolve to become more general (Fries 1940, Lieberman et al. 2007, Michel, et al 2011 among other). But changes in the other direction have been observed as well. These changes in language typically take decades, but this fact has been changed with the arrival of the Internet (1990s). One of main reasons for the rapid language change in the Internet is its diversity that makes it intensely multilingual place (Danet and Herring 2007). The environment of Internet is selected for the present study, as a lot of native and non-native speakers use English as a language contact and accordingly language change may take place more rapidly than usual. It is in a way a laboratory when language change may take place much faster than elsewhere.
This study investigates to what extent current uses of regular and irregular verbs and nouns may provide evidence for single or dual mechanism by focusing on the question whether only regularization processes apply (favoring a dual mechanism approach) or whether processes of irregularization can also be attested (favoring a single mechanism approach).