SOME WORD ORDER BIASES FROM LIMITED BRAIN RESOURCES: A MATHEMATICAL APPROACH
In this paper, we propose a mathematical framework for studying word order optimization. The framework relies on the well-known positive correlation between cognitive cost and the Euclidean distance between the elements (e.g. words) involved in a syntactic link. We study the conditions under which a certain word order is more economical than an alternative word order by proposing a mathematical approach. We apply our methodology to two different cases: (a) the ordering of subject (S), verb (V) and object (O), and (b) the covering of a root word by a syntactic link. For the former, we find that SVO and its symmetric, OVS, are more economical than OVS, SOV, VOS and VSO at least 2/3 of the time. For the latter, we find that uncovering the root word is more economical than covering it at least 1/2 of the time. With the help of our framework, one can explain some Greenbergian universals. Our findings provide further theoretical support for the hypothesis that the limited resources of the brain introduce biases toward certain word orders. Our theoretical findings could inspire or illuminate future psycholinguistics or corpus linguistics studies.
Word order, cognitive cost, syntactic dependency, linguistic universals, human language
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