Semantic density and past-tense formation in three Germanic languages

Baayen, R. H., & Moscoso del Prado Martín, F. (2005). Semantic density and past-tense formation in three Germanic languages. Language, 81(3), 666-698. doi:10.1353/lan.2005.0112.
it is widely believed that the difference between regular and irregular verbs is restricted to form. This study questions that belief. We report a series of lexical statistics showing that irregular verbs cluster in denser regions in semantic space. Compared to regular verbs, irregular verbs tend to have more semantic neighbors that in turn have relatively many other semantic neighbors that are morphologically irregular. We show that this greater semantic density for irregulars is reflected in association norms, familiarity ratings, visual lexical-decision latencies, and word-naming latencies. Meta-analyses of the materials of two neuroimaging studies show that in these studies, regularity is confounded with differences in semantic density. Our results challenge the hypothesis of the supposed formal encapsulation of rules of inflection and support lines of research in which sensitivity to probability is recognized as intrinsic to human language.
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