A formal model of lexicogrammatical individuality

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Individuality in language is an under-researched area of linguistics. Although frameworks of different kinds presuppose the existence of idiolects, the study of why and how individuals are different and/or unique in their lexicogrammatical system is an area that is not well developed. This is a problem for forensic linguists who provide evidence of authorship of questioned documents in a court of law. Despite the significant advances in this field made by computational linguists, the reason for the success of these techniques is unknown. One of the most fascinating and yet unexplained facts is that the frequency of function words can differentiate individuals. In this talk I will present a formal theory of linguistic individuality fundamentally based on cognitive linguistics that proposes an explanation for this phenomenon within a formal architecture based on cognitive linguistic principles. The central argument of the theory is that each individual possesses a unique repertoire of linguistic units, defined following Langacker (1987) as structures that a person can produce automatically. A linguistic unit defined in this way largely correspond to the cognitive psychology notion of a chunk (Miller 1956; Gobet et al. 2001), which in turn are traces of memory, predominantly procedural. Usage-based theories predict that these repertoires are different because entrenchment, the process of unit creation, is predominantly idiosyncratic (Schmid 2015; Langacker 1987; Dąbrowska 2014). The argument proposed is that the frequency of function words is a statistical representation reflecting these unique repertories. Initial empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis will also be presented in the form of a comparison between two authorship analysis systems, one based on function word frequencies and one on comparison of repertoires of units. This evidence seems to support Langacker’s claim that “the set of units mastered by all members of a speech community might be a rather small proportion of the units constituting the linguistic ability of any given speaker” (Langacker 1987: 62).


Dąbrowska, Ewa. 2014. Recycling utterances: A speaker’s guide to sentence processing. Cognitive Linguistics (4). 617–653. https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2014-0057.

Gobet, Fernand, Peter C.R. Lane, Steve Croker, Peter C-H. Cheng, Gary Jones, Iain Oliver & Julian M Pine. 2001. Chunking mechanisms in human learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5(6). 236–243. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01662-4.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar. Vol. 1. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Miller, George A. 1956. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review 63(2). 81–97.

Schmid, Hans-Jörg. 2015. A blueprint of the Entrenchment-and- Conventionalization Model. Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association 3(1). 3–25. https://doi.org/10.1515/gcla-2015-0002.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2023
Event16th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference: ICLC16 - Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany
Duration: 7 Aug 202311 Aug 2023
Conference number: 16


Conference16th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference


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