Frequency effects in language, vol. 2: Frequency effects in language representation

Frequency effects in language, vol. 2: Frequency effects in language representation. Ed. by Dagmar Divjak and Stefan Th. Gries. (Trends in linguistics: studies and monographs 244.2.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012. Pp. vii, 282. ISBN 9783110273786. $140 (Hb).
Reviewed by Natalia Levshina, Université catholique de Louvain

This book focuses on the effects of frequency on the way linguistic categories and constructions are represented in the speaker’s mind. Most contributions also pursue an important methodological goal; namely, they compare linguistic evidence from corpora and experiments. The articles in the book analyze a large amount of data collected with the help of diverse experimental techniques (e.g. eye tracking, interviews, picture descriptions) and employ diverse quantitative techniques to ensure the validity of the conclusions drawn.

The book opens with an introduction by Dagmar Divjak, where she revisits the contemporary controversy with regard to frequency effects in language and outlines the main themes of the book. The core of the book consists of three parts. The first focuses on near-synonymous constructions, such as go + complement constructions in English (Doris Schönefeld), prefixal verbs with the meaning ‘load’ in Russian (Svetlana Sokolova, Olga Lyashevskaya, and Laura A. Janda) and the dative alternation in Dutch (Timothy Colleman and Sarah Bernolet). The studies in the second part (Neal Snider and Inbal Arnon; Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Jonathan Berant, and Shimon Edelman), based on English and Hebrew, challenge the privileged status of words in the lexicon and the traditional distinction between stored and computed forms.

The final part explores the structure of the mental lexicon, both from a semasiological (polysemy in English and Spanish) and onomasiological perspectives (antonymy and lexical conversion in English). The studies demonstrate, among other interesting findings, that lexical information stored by speakers includes information about the relative frequencies of the use of the word as a particular word class (Laura Teddiman), that elicitation data are less rich and less homogeneous than the corpus evidence of polysemous senses (Littlemore and MacArthur), and, finally, that the relationships of antonymy depend less on lexical cooccurrence than the conceptual opposition of the words (Joost van de Weijer, Carita Paradis, Caroline Willners, and Magnus Lindgren).

This book further develops the main idea of its companion, namely that frequency effects should be nuanced with regard to their scope and nature. It also challenges many traditional assumptions about linguistic representation, such as the ‘empty’ semantics of aspectual prefixes in Russian (Sokolova et al.), the idea of a universally valid radial structure representation of a word’s meaning (Jeannette Littlemore and Fiona MacArthur), and the textbook definition of antonymy as a lexical relationship (van de Weijer et al.). With all its thematic diversity, the book is an important step in understanding the dialectic relationship between language use and knowledge and can be recommended to a broad linguistic audience.