[Lingtyp] Conversational Priming

pcoenen2 at uni-koeln.de pcoenen2 at uni-koeln.de
Wed Mar 17 19:31:20 UTC 2021

Dear colleagues,

in a project at the University of Cologne, Eugen Hill, Sonja Gipper,  
Martin Becker and I are investigating the question as to how  
conversational priming may facilitate the spread of grammatical (and  
potentially other) innovations in the course of language change. As a  
starting point, we examine repetitional responses to polar questions,  
in which one interlocutor repeats (a part of) the question of the  
other interlocutor. Hence, if speaker A uses an innovative form in a  
question, speaker B will probably repeat it, which after several  
iterations facilitates the integration of the innovative form into  
his/her own grammar. Given that grammatical innovations spread in this  
manner, we expect there to be certain asymmetries regarding the speed  
in which innovations spread. For instance, in languages which mark  
person on the verb, innovative verb forms should spread faster in the  
3rd person singular than in the 1st and 2nd person. For in a  
question-answer sequence, a verb in the 3rd person has to be repeated  
exactly whereas one in the 1st/2nd person does not. Consider the  
following examples from Russian, where the finite verb has to be  
repeated in order to answer a polar question:

(1) Ty letiš’ v Pariž? – Leču. / Ne leču.
‘Will you fly to Paris?’ – ‘Yes.’ / ‘No.’
(2) Ja leču v Pariž? – Letiš’. / Ne letiš’.
‘Will I fly to Paris?’ – ‘Yes.’ / ‘No.’
(3) Masha letit v Pariž? – Letit. / Ne letit.
‘Will Masha fly to Paris?’ – ‘Yes.’ / ‘No.’

In order to investigate our hypothesis further it is vital that we  
find other such asymmetries in question-answer sequences. Only then  
can we evaluate whether such synchronic asymmetries are also reflected  
in the diachronic development of the respective forms. Therefore, we  
would like to ask you whether you are aware of any asymmetries in the  
languages you work on that are comparable to the one regarding the  
person in Russian.

Kind regards and thank you for your input!

Pascal Coenen

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