A Multi-Methodological Approach to Word Order Variation in German Infinitival Complementation

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Description: The focus of our present investigation lies on the question of which factors limit word order variation in German infinitival complementation and determine word order preferences during actual language performance. In German, infinitival complements can either be extraposed to the right of the matrix verb, intraposed to its left, or form a discontinuous infinitival construction, the so-called 'Third Construction' (Haider, 2010). By approaching language performance from a multi-methodological perspective, we assess, firstly, whether frequency distributions of different word order variants determine speakers’ preference patterns as predicted by usage-based approaches to language performance (e.g. Bybee, 2006; Bybee & Beckner, 2010). Secondly, factors other than frequency may also play a role in determining speakers' choices, such as the ease of producing or comprehending a particular word order variant. Therefore, we also examine whether and to what extent processing economy constraints (e.g. Hawkins, 1994; Gibson, 2000) might influence speakers’ preferences in syntactic variation contexts. We conclude that frequency-based accounts to language processing and representation do not fully match speakers’ preference patterns, and that processing cost, especially for the Third Construction, can influence speakers' preference patterns across a variety of tasks in language production and judgement.

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