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Reading 3 - Frequency effects in morphology[begin boxed...

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Frequency effects in morphology [begin boxed text] Important questions in this chapter Why is inflection sometimes irregular? Why do languages often have multiple morphological patterns to express a single inflectional function (or derivational meaning)? [end boxed text] In various ways, the frequency of use of linguistic units has a profound influence on language structure. In this book we have already seen several examples. For instance, there is a correlation between morphological productivity and use frequency, such that highly productive patterns are likely to be overrepresented among the words with the lowest token frequency (Sections 5.2 and 5.6). Third, words with high token frequency exhibit greater blocking strength than low frequency words. Thus, coraggio ‘courage’ blocks * coraggiosità because the former has a high token frequency, but ignominia ‘ignominy’, an uncommonly used word, does not block ignominiosità . These facts are ultimately rooted in the theory that the token frequency of a complex word-form affects whether it is generated by morphological rule each time it is used, or stored in the lexicon and accessed directly. The more frequent the word, the more likely it is to be stored (Section 2.4.3). Finally, in Chapter 7 the relative frequency of word-forms belonging to the same lexeme was used to explain why words sometimes shift from one word-class to another. In this chapter we explore in more detail the relationship between token frequency and inflectional structure. One of the most striking effects of frequency differences on word structure is found in inflection, where frequency asymmetries result in asymmetrical structural behaviour of various kinds (Section 11.1). Frequency asymmetries also have an effect on the direction of language change (Section 11.2) and cause
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some words to differ in how resistant they are to regularization (Section 11.3). These three issues are related in that collectively they explain the role that frequency plays in creating distinct inflectional classes and irregularity over time. Central questions for this chapter thus are: Why do languages have inflection classes (i.e. more than one morphological pattern to express a single set of inflectional properties)? Why is inflection sometimes irregular?. In psychological terms, the token frequency of an item has three main effects, all of which influence language structure in one way or another: (i) predictability (frequent expressions are more predictable because their occurrence is more likely), (ii) memory strength (frequent units are more easily remembered) and (iii) fast retrieval (in processing, frequent units are retrieved more easily and faster from memory than rare expressions). Frequency of use is therefore one of the most important sources for system-external explanation of language structure.
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