DFG Research project KU 2896/1-1

Processing complexity and the variation between analytic and synthetic forms in English

“Verarbeitungskomplexität und die Variation zwischen analytischen und synthetischen Formen im Englischen”

Principal investigator: Gero Kunter

Universität Siegen (April 2012–January 2013)
Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf (February 2013–November 2014)

Grammatical variation; comparative alternation; Possessive alternation; Processing complexity; Reaction times; Production; Perception; Periphrasis; Exponence; English


The research project investigated the relation between processing complexity and grammatical variation in English. Previous research has suggested that if speakers can choose between either synthetic or analytic forms, they prefer the analytic form (e.g. more happy) over the synthetic alternative (e.g. happier) when facing increasing complexity. However, only very few studies have attempted to show that this observed link is indeed attributable to changes in psycholinguistic complexity.

The present research project addressed this gap in the research literature. Using evidence from corpora as well as from production and perception experiments, the results imply that cognitive complexity does indeed affect the preference of speakers, but in more multifaceted ways than previously assumed. The findings of the research project strongly argue for a careful distinction between production and perception when invoking complexity as a determinant of grammatical variation.

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