Florent Perek speaking at next LEL Research Seminar

Posted on November 25, 2017 by

On Tuesday, November 28, our department welcomes Florent Perek to the LEL Research seminars. Florent, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham, describes himself as a cognitive linguist, a quantitative corpus linguist, and a construction grammarian. In his talk (see abstract below), he will discuss how to model constructional change with distributional semantics, and as such his talk will appeal to anyone with an interest in computational and quantitative approaches in corpus linguistics and diachronic linguistics.

As usual, the talk will take place at Sam Alex_A201, from 16:15 – 17:30.

Afterwards, there will be a short reception and we will take our speaker out for dinner. We look forward to seeing you there!

featured image: MDS plot of verb types in ‘V the hell out of’-construction, discussed in one of Florent’s papers.

Modelling constructional change with distributional semantics

Florent Perek – University of Birmingham

In the nascent field of diachronic construction grammar (DCxG, Traugott & Trousdale 2013), language change is analysed with reference to the idea that grammar is best described as a structured inventory of form-meaning pairs, aka constructions (Goldberg 1995, 2006). For instance, the English way-construction (e.g., They hacked their way through the jungle) pairs the form [NP V one’s way PP] with the notion that the subject referent moves along some path. As DCxG is a usage-based approach, constructional change is analysed by looking at usage data in historical corpora, and two aspects are especially focused on when examining the diachronic development of constructions: (i) their productivity, i.e., the range of lexical items that can occur in their slots, and (ii) their schematicity, i.e., the degree of generality in the meaning of a construction and its slots.

These two aspects are commonly thought to be interrelated: variation in productivity often corresponds to variation in schematicity, but this crucially depends on how attested lexical items are spread in semantic space (cf. Suttle & Goldberg 2011). Therefore, a proper characterization of constructional change requires a semantic description of the lexical items occurring in a given construction, especially in terms of how these items are related.

This talk describes a research programme aimed at applying distributional semantics to the study of constructional change. Distributional semantics offers a way to capture the semantic relatedness of lexical items through their frequent collocates in a large corpus, which eschews the need for manual intervention to characterize lexical meaning. Two methods drawing on distributional semantic representations to track changes in the semantic domain of constructions over time will be discussed. The first method consists in plotting the lexical distribution of a slot of a construction in different time periods. This provides a visualization of trends of change and helps to identify semantic classes of items that join or leave the distribution of the construction, which would be harder to discern on the sole basis of semantic intuitions. The second method aims at identifying stages, i.e., times of relative stability vs. turning points, in the semantic history of constructions, by using a customized version of variability-based neighbour clustering (Gries & Hilpert 2008). Several case studies of recent change (i.e., over the last 200 years) in two English verbal constructions are presented to illustrate these methods and show how their results can be interpreted in terms of changes in the grammatical representation of constructions.



Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goldberg, Adele E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gries, Stefan & Martin Hilpert. 2008. The Identification of Stages in Diachronic Data: Variability-based Neighbor Clustering. Corpora 3. 59–81.

Suttle, Laura & Adele E. Goldberg. 2011. The partial productivity of constructions as induction. Linguistics 49(6). 1237–1269.

Traugott, Elizabeth C. & Graeme Trousdale. 2013. Constructionalization and Constructional Changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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