|Title||A Noisy-Channel Account of Crosslinguistic Word-Order Variation|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2013|
|Authors||Gibson, E., Piantadosi S. T., Brink K., Bergen L., Lim E., & Saxe R.|
|Pagination||1079 - 1088|
The distribution of word orders across languages is highly nonuniform, with subject-verb-object (SVO) and subjectobject-verb (SOV) orders being prevalent. Recent work suggests that the SOV order may be the default in human language. Why, then, is SVO order so common? We hypothesize that SOV/SVO variation can be explained by language users’ sensitivity to the possibility of noise corrupting the linguistic signal. In particular, the noisy-channel hypothesis predicts a shift from the default SOV order to SVO order for semantically reversible events, for which potential ambiguity arises in SOV order because two plausible agents appear on the same side of the verb. We found support for this prediction in three languages (English, Japanese, and Korean) by using a gesture-production task, which reflects word-order preferences largely independent of native language. Other patterns of crosslinguistic variation (e.g., the prevalence of case marking in SOV languages and its relative absence in SVO languages) also straightforwardly follow from the noisy-channel hypothesis.
|Short Title||Psychol Sci|