Probabilistic syntax

“Everyone knows that language is variable.” This is the bald sentence with which Sapir (1921:147) begins his chapter on language as an historical product. He goes on to emphasize how two speakers’ usage is bound to differ “in choice of words, in sentence structure, in the relative frequency with which particular forms or combinations of words are used”. I should add that much sociolinguistic and historical linguistic research has shown that the same speaker’s usage is also variable (Labov 1966, Kroch 2001:722). However, the tradition of most syntacticians has been to ignore this thing that everyone knows.
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