A Regression Model for the English Benefactive Alternation

In English, dative constructions preferably take one of two forms. One uses an indirect object, e.g. He gave me a cake. The other makes use of a prepositional phrase, e.g. He gave a cake to me. In principle, the choice between the two forms is free. However, for the alternation with to it has been shown that there are various factors which influence the choice, such as length and discourse givenness of the objects (Bresnan et al., 2007). It has even proved possible to relate the choice to these feature values with logistic regression models. Given sufficient amounts of training data, these models can reach a prediction accuracy well over 90%.

There has been much less attention to the dative alternation with the preposition for, which can be used for benefactive constructions (He baked me a cake versus He baked a cake for me). We investigate whether this alternation can be modeled with a similar high accuracy, using the same feature set and the same modelling techniques. Furthermore, we want to compare the alternation in adult and child language use. We use a data set containing benefactive constructions in written British English, taken from a number of corpus sources, i.e. ICE-GB, SUSANNE, LUCY and LCCPW, the latter two representing the written English of children (around 10 years of age). We will not only discuss the overall model accuracy, but also the relative role of the various features in models for the different kinds of text.

Presented at: The 19th meeting of Computational Linguistics In the Netherlands (CLIN-19), 22 January 2009, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
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