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Publication - Dr Sean Roberts

    Cognitive influences in language evolution

    Psycholinguistic predictors of loan word borrowing


    Monaghan, P & Roberts, S, 2019, ‘Cognitive influences in language evolution: Psycholinguistic predictors of loan word borrowing’. Cognition, vol 186., pp. 147-158


    Languages change due to social, cultural, and cognitive influences. In this paper, we provide an assessment of these cognitive influences on diachronic change in the vocabulary. Previously, tests of stability and change of vocabulary items have been conducted on small sets of words where diachronic change is imputed from cladistics studies. Here, we show for a substantially larger set of words that stability and change in terms of documented borrowings of words into English and into Dutch can be predicted by psycholinguistic properties of words that reflect their representational fidelity. We found that grammatical category, word length, age of acquisition, and frequency predict borrowing rates, but frequency has a non-linear relationship. Frequency correlates negatively with probability of borrowing for high-frequency words, but positively for low-frequency words. This borrowing evidence documents recent, observable diachronic change in the vocabulary enabling us to distinguish between change associated with transmission during language acquisition and change due to innovations by proficient speakers.

    Full details in the University publications repository