Concord begets concord: A Bayesian model of nominal concord typology

Kyle Mahowald, Dan Jurafsky, Mark Norris


Nominal concord is a phenomenon whereby nominal modifiers (e.g., adjectives, demonstratives, numerals) agree with their nominals along various dimensions (e.g., gender, number, case, definiteness). Here, drawing on a rich and typologically diverse database of nominal concord (Norris 2020), we build a Bayesian mixed effect model of nominal concord. Specifically, we consider two competing hypotheses regarding the statistical relationship between different types of concord within a language: (1) concord begets concord: the presence of some type of concord in a language makes it more likely that it has other types of concord vs. (2) a little concord goes a long way: if a language has some kind of concord, it is less likely to have other types of concord. We present evidence strongly in favor of the first hypothesis, that concord begets concord. Languages with nominal concord tend to have concord in more than one place and of more than one type. Using posterior draws from our model, we also provide quantitative evidence for a number of the tendencies described by Norris (2019a). Future work will build on this model to understand the functional role of nominal concord in language systems, how it evolves, and how it co-evolves with other typological features.


nominal concord; Bayesian modeling; typology; probabilistic models; agreement; quantitative methods

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Copyright (c) 2021 Kyle Mahowald, Dan Jurafsky, Mark Norris

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