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Frequential test of (S)OV as unmarked word order in Dutch and German clauses: A serendipitous corpus-linguistic experiment

Kempen, G., & Harbusch, K. (2017). Frequential test of (S)OV as unmarked word order in Dutch and German clauses: A serendipitous corpus-linguistic experiment. In H. Reckman, L. L. S. Cheng, M. Hijzelendoorn, & R. Sybesma (Eds.), Crossroads semantics: Computation, experiment and grammar (pp. 107-123). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
In a paper entitled “Against markedness (and what to replace it with)”, Haspelmath argues “that the term ‘markedness’ is superfluous”, and that frequency asymmetries often explain structural (un)markedness asymmetries (Haspelmath 2006). We investigate whether this argument applies to Object and Verb orders in main (VO, marked) and subordinate (OV, unmarked) clauses of spoken and written German and Dutch, using English (without VO/OV alternation) as control. Frequency counts from six treebanks (three languages, two output modalities) do not support Haspelmath’s proposal. However, they reveal an unexpected phenomenon, most prominently in spoken Dutch and German: a small set of extremely high-frequent finite verbs with unspecific meanings populates main clauses much more densely than subordinate clauses. We suggest these verbs accelerate the start-up of grammatical encoding, thus facilitating sentence-initial output fluency
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