In a land far far away... A probabilistic account of the dative alternation in British, American, and Australian English

This article presents a corpus and judgement study of the dative alternation, i.e. the alternation between the double object construction (e.g. I'll give him the money) and the prepositional dative construction (I'll give the money to him). The present research is performed in a framework of probabilistic linguistics, in which we assume that syntactic structure is influenced by linguistic factors whose relative importance may vary. With regression models, we compared the dative alternation of British, American, and Australian speakers of English varying in age and gender. We found that both in produced speech and in judgements, the linguistic factors show a consistent pattern (harmonic alignment) across different varieties, age groups, and genders: animate objects usually precede inanimate objects, definites precede indefinites, shorter precede longer, and pronouns precede nonpronouns. The two studies also revealed subtle distributional differences between the roles that these linguistic factors play across the different speaker groups.


Reference: Daphne Theijssen, Joan Bresnan, Marilyn Ford and Lou Boves (submitted). In a land far far away... A probabilistic account of the dative alternation in British, American, and Australian English.
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