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An exploration of syntactic harmony between the verb phrase and adpositional phrase

Languages differ widely from each other, yet there are a number of typological regularities which hold across languages (eg. Greenberg, 1963). One such regularity is the tendency for dependents to consistently come on one side of the head of the phrase, across phrase types. Languages which have this property are said to be harmonic. I investigate a particular instance of harmony, specifically that between the verb phrase and the adpositional phrase. Previous work has suggested that this type of harmony could be a product of the historical tendency for adpositions to derive from verb phrases or from genitives, in a process which preserves linear order (Moravcsik, 2010). Research using experimental methods, on the other hand, has found some evidence for a cognitive bias for cross-category harmony using the artificial language learning paradigm (Zhao & Fedzechkina, 2020; Wang, Kirby, & Culbertson, 2021). Zhao and Fedzechkina (2020) only find such evidence in the postpositional condition, but this is likely due to the fact that there is a baseline preference for SOV for the type of events stimuli used in their experiments (Goldin-Meadow, So, Özyürek, & Mylander, 2008; Schouwstra & de Swart, 2014), which competes with the harmony bias, preventing the effect from being demonstrated in the prepositional condition. Secondly, in both Zhao and Fedzechkina (2020) and Wang et al. (2021), the items used in the test phase shared elements with those used in the training phase. It is therefore possible that participants used surface level rules in their responses, (eg. the word for table always comes last) rather than a more general syntactic rule (eg. the head comes before the dependent).
Therefore, I firstly aim to identify whether there is a baseline preference for either prepositions or postpositions using a silent gesture perception paradigm (experiment 1). I then test whether cross-category harmony can be found using silent gesture perception methods combined with artificial language learning, using statistical methods to compare the results with any baseline adpositional order preference potentially found in experiment 1, in order to avoid the issues found in previous studies (experiment 2). Finally, I test whether we still find evidence of a cognitive bias for harmony when the elements in the test stimuli are entirely different to those in the training stimuli (experiment 3). The results of these experiments will give us more of an insight into why cross-category harmony is so prevalent in language.

Goldin-Meadow, S., So, W., Özyürek, A., & Mylander, C. (2008). The natural order of events: How speakers of different languages represent events nonverbally. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 9163–9168.
Greenberg, J. (1963). Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements. In J. Greenberg, Universals of Language (pp. 73-113). Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Moravcsik, E. (2010). Explaining Language Universals. In J. Song (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schouwstra, M., & de Swart, H. (2014). The semantic origins of word order. Cognition, 431-436. Wang, F., Kirby, S., & Culbertson, J. (2021). A Cognitive Bias for Cross-Category Word Order
Harmony. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Zhao, Y., & Fedzechkina, M. (2020). Learners' harmonic preferences are modulated by lexical retrieval difficulty. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, (pp. 708-721).