Martin Hilpert

Modelling constructional change 

Construction Grammar has been developed as a theoretical model of speakers’ linguistic knowledge. An assumption of this model is that linguistic knowledge comes about through speakers’ experience with language in use. Constructions are seen as generalizations that speakers form over repeated events of language use. Most studies in Construction Grammar investigate this kind of knowledge from a synchronic point of view, that is, at a single point in time. This talk discusses an emerging research program that applies the constructional view of language to developments happening over time, that is, the emergence, change, and decay of linguistic knowledge. Applying the constructional view to issues in diachrony forces linguists to re-think language change from the ground up. If knowledge of language consists of generalizations across linguistic memories, those generalizations change with every new usage event. In the technical part of this talk, I will discuss how changes in constructional knowledge can be statistically modeled on the basis of so-called diachronic corpora, which are collections of text that provide a fossil record of how speakers have used constructions at different points in historical time. The data and analytical methods that linguists currently have at their disposal allow us to build models that do more than reflect what kinds of changes happened at what time. I will present models that show how and why these changes happened, and that capture the dynamics of language change in new ways.   


Martin is an asistant professor in English linguistics at the University of Neuchâtel. He is interested in Cognitive Linguistics, Language Change, Construction Grammar, and Corpus Linguistics. After completing his PhD in Linguistics (Rice University, 2007), he was a Postdoc at the ICSI Berkeley in Chuck Fillmore's Framenet project and did research at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. Since 2012 he is at the University of Neuchâtel. His book ‘Constructional Change in English’ just came out with the Cambridge University Press, and you can find out what it’s about here. Martin sings and plays the guitar. He keeps a Fender Stratocaster in his office.

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