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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Cognitive processing, language typology, and variation

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Linguistic typological preferences have often been linked to cognitive processing preferences but often without recourse to typologically relevant experiments on cognitive processing. This article reviews experimental work on the possible parallels between preferences in cognitive processing and language typology. I summarize the main theoretical accounts of the processing‐typology connection and show that typological distributions arise diachronically from preferred paths of language change, which may be affected by the degree to which alternative structures are preferred (e.g., easier) in acquisition or usage. The surveyed experimental evidence shows that considerable support exists for many linguistic universals to reflect preferences in cognitive processing. Artificial language learning experiments emerge as a promising method for researching the processing‐typology connection, as long as its limitations are taken into account. I further show that social and cultural differences in cognition may have an effect on typological distributions and that to account for this variation a multidisciplinary approach to the processing‐typology connection has to be developed. Lastly, since the body of experimental research does not adequately represent the linguistic diversity of the world's languages, it remains as an urgent task for the field to better account for this diversity in future work. WIREs Cogn Sci 2014, 5:477‐487. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1294 This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Linguistic Theory Psychology > Language
Typological distributions reflect cognitive biases indirectly. In the generative theory, cognitive biases affect language acquisition but in usage‐based theory they primarily affect language use. By hypothesis, what is preferred (e.g., easier) in acquisition or usage tends to become conventionalized across languages and what is dispreferred conventionalizes less often or tends to wither away. Statistical universals arise when linguistic structures across languages change through such preferred paths of language change.
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