Grammatical variation and, uh, cognitive load: Not so correlated
2022-04-12, 17:30–18:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 4

The following paper introduces new research exploring the link between production difficulty and grammatical variability. Using a sub-sample of the Switchboard Corpus (190 transcripts, 21 speakers), this paper shows that the presence of variable contexts does not positively correlate with two metrics of production difficulty, namely overt disfluencies (filled pauses, restarts, etc.) and speech planning time. When 20 morphosyntactic variables are considered collectively (N=9,065), there is no effect (r = -0.058}/0.14). In other words, a greater number of variable contexts does not correlate with more measurable production difficulty. These result challenge the view that variability, which always includes choice, is somehow suboptimal for speakers, with additional burdensome cognitive planning. When the 20 morphosyntactic variables are considered individually, we find additional surprising patterns, whereby more salient variants (e.g., the be like quotative, the got possessive and deontic got to, dative/accusative coordinated first-person pronouns), theorized to align with more attention paid to speech, do not correlated with the kinds of disfluencies found empirically to occur when speakers engage in more self-monitoring and exert more executive control of the production process.

Matt Hunt Gardner is a post-doctoral researcher working at KU Leuven, Belgium. Matt is a trained variationist sociolinguist and is currently exploring the connections between grammatical variability and speech processing.