Syntactic Planning and the Information Threshold - Speaker: Joel Wallenberg

This talk describes work conducted with colleagues on the recently ended project ‚Constraints on the Adaptiveness of Information in
Language (CAIL)’, which involved using information theory to analyze linguistic optionality and its cognitive scaffolding. Building on
seminal work by Fenk and Fenk (1980, see also Fenk-Oczlon, 2001 and many subs, including work done not far from where I’m standing), we suggest that linguistic planning is adapted for noise resistance. Specifically, speakers use whatever syntactic means are at their disposal in order to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic communication failure in the presence of noise.

First, we demonstrate that more uniform ordering of elements confers functional noise resistance with a simulation study that compares the preservation of information in different distributions under conditions of noise. Secondly, data from syntactic change in English and Icelandic shows that speakers use the syntactic variants made available by change in progress to achieve a certain threshold of information uniformity, a threshold that is conserved over historical time. We have now updated our prior work in this area on the OV-to-VO changes in English and Icelandic with additional work on the interaction between OV/VO, V2, and constraints on information spread. Thirdly, I will present some new data on the decline of DP topicalization in Late Early Modern English and its implications for information uniformity, carrying on the work of Speyer (2008, 2010). Finally, I will ask your advice on directions for investigating effect of speaker ageing on planning uniform utterances.