[Lingtyp] Do experimental and typological studies predict each other?

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Mon Jan 15 14:55:37 UTC 2018

A nice overview article is the following:

Sinnemäki, Kaius. 2014. Cognitive processing, language typology, and 
variation. /Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science/ 5(4). 
477–487. doi:10.1002/wcs.1294.

The following is said in the abstract:

"Linguistic typological preferences have often been linked to cognitive 
processing preferences but often without recourse to typologically 
relevant experiments on cognitive processing. This article reviews 
experimental work on the possible parallels between preferences in 
cognitive processing and language typology. ... The surveyed 
experimental evidence shows that considerable support exists for many 
linguistic universals to reflect preferences in cognitive processing"

Cognitive processing, language typology, and variation Universals may 
also have other sources, so if there is no experimental confirmation, 
this may be because they do not reflect processing preferences, but 
perhaps change preferences ("mutational constraints").

But of course, lack of evidence from experiments does not mean that 
there is no processing preference – it could be so weak that it hasn't 
been detected yet. Conversely, lack of typological evidence doesn't mean 
that there is no universal tendency – it could be so weak that it hasn't 
been detected yet.


On 15.01.18 13:46, Claire Bowern wrote:
> For some information about this in an Australian context, see Haynie, 
> Bowern, and LaPalombara (2014): 
> http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0092852.. 
> We found some support but not in every language we looked at.
> Claire
> On Sat, Jan 13, 2018 at 7:04 AM, JOO Ian <il.y.en.a at outlook.com 
> <mailto:il.y.en.a at outlook.com>> wrote:
>     Dear all,
>     Many experimental studies show that people tend to associate high
>     front vowels with small size and low back vowels with large size
>     (/e. g./ Shinohara and Kawahara 2010).
>     Bauer’s (1996)study, on the other hand, show that diminutive and
>     augmentative affixes are not correlated with specific vowels,
>     contrary to what one would expect based on experimental studies.
>     This leads me to think that experimental and typological studies
>     do not always predict each other. That is, the correlations
>     demonstrated by experiments are not necessarily statistically
>     visible in natural languages, what is statistically significant in
>     natural languages may not be demonstrable through experiments.
>     What do you think about the predictability between experimental
>     and typological studies? Can you think of any example where there
>     is no predictability, like the case of Bauer (1996)?
>     Sincerely,
>     Ian Joo
>     http://ianjoo.academia.edu
>     *References*
>     Bauer, Laurie. “No Phonetic Iconicity in Evaluative Morphology.”
>     /Studia Linguistica/, vol. 50, no. 2, 1996, pp. 189–206.
>     Shinohara, Kazuko, and Shigeto Kawahara. “A Cross-Linguistic Study
>     of Sound Symbolism: The Images of Size.” /Annual Meeting of the
>     Berkeley Linguistics Society/, vol. 36, 2010, pp. 396–410.
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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

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