/nuz baɪts/ SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 1 Contents G. Ricean Maxims for the Earnest Researcher—Paul G. Rice

Dependency Length Minimisation

Anna Gram
Institute of Massachusetts Technology

Why would they predict that, without Universal Grammar, syntax would not exist? This is because Latin’s greater morphological complexity allows more variable word order. Then they claim that this is evidence of Universal Grammar. But what would be different without Universal Grammar? For example, it is weaker in Latin than in English. Let us examine this claim in more detail. Therefore the order of words is generally not random. Finally, we must consider whether this is necessarily a feature of syntax at all. Surely any information will be easier to understand if presented in a logical order? The effect varies from language to language. Therefore syntax exists. They refer to this tendency as “Dependency Length Minimisation”, and, as is the wont of researchers at MIT, have claimed it as important evidence of Universal Grammar. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have claimed the discovery of an important new linguistic universal. Therefore there is information contained in word order. Analysing texts from a sample of 37 languages, they found that the distance between related words is typically less than would be predicted if the words were arranged randomly. So, based on a statistical analysis of a small sample of languages, the authors conclude something that should surprise nobody. Related words tend to occur more closely together than they would if words were arranged randomly. To illustrate this, I have scrambled the order of the sentences in this article.

/nuz baɪts/
G. Ricean Maxims for the Earnest ResearcherPaul G. Rice
SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 1 Contents