The Tale of Two Lexicons: Decomposing Complexity across a Distributed Lexicon

In: Heritage Language Journal
Terje Lohndal Professor, Department of Language and Literature, Norwegian University of Science and Technology Trondheim Norway
Adjunct Professor, Department of Language and Culture, UiT The Arctic University of Norway Tromsø Norway

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Michael T. Putnam Professor of German and Linguistics, GSLL & Linguistics Program, The Pennsylvania State University, State College Pennsylvania USA
Visiting Professor of Linguistics, University of Greenwich, Centre for Research & Enterprise in Language (CREL) London UK

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The notion of complexity is evasive and often left to intuition, yet it is often invoked when studying heritage language grammars. In this article, we propose a first pass at decomposing the notion of complexity into smaller components in a formal grammatical model. In particular, we argue that a distributed model of the lexicon (i.e., one that assumes that principles that generate both words and phrases are one and the same) allows us to identify three components: syntactic features, the hierarchical organization of features, and the mapping between syntactic features and their exponents. Based on grammatical gender in different language pairs, in particular the heritage language American Norwegian (AmNo), we illustrate how this distributed model can account for developments in heritage language grammars whereby the grammatical gender system is considered to have become less complex. More generally, the article demonstrates that a distributed architecture is better suited empirically and theoretically as a heuristic to understand complexity effects in heritage grammars and beyond.

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