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The psychological reality of syntactic dependency relations

Richard Hudson

last changed 22 June 2010

Bibliographical information

In Sylvain Kahane and Alexis Nasr, eds. 2003. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Meaning-Text Theory. Paris: Ecole Normale Superieure, 181-192.


I review some evidence that dependency structure is psychologically real (and by implication that phrase structure is not), I start by comparing WG dependencies with MTT surface syntax and deep morphology. I then consider the following kinds of evidence:· Dependency distance: dependencies tend to be short, and longer dependencies tend to be harder to process.· Dependency direction: consistent direction (head-initial or -final) is cognitively simpler but harder to process, so mixed directions are functionally motivated.· Dependency classification: grammatical functions are sub-types of dependency, and require the same kinds of cognitive machinery as non-linguistic relations such as kinship relations.· Dependency prototypes: dependency types (e.g. 'subject') are prototypes which combine observable and unobservable features in bundles which allow exceptions. · Dependency parsing: dependencies are added one at a time to the head word, rather than by the addition of extra 'mother' nodes.· Dependency lexicalisation: many dependencies are stored as relations between lexical items. Dependency learning: every dependency can be learned by induction from adjacent word pairs, and its properties can be elaborated through experience.