Language vs. individuals in cross-linguistic corpus typology

Danielle Barth, Nicholas Evans, I. Wayan Arka, Henrik Bergqvist, Diana Forker, Sonja Gipper, Gabrielle Hodge, Eri Kashima, Yuki Kasuga, Carine Kawakami, Yukinori Kimoto, Dominique Knuchel, Norikazu Kogura, Keita Kurabe, John Mansfield, Heiko Narrog, Desak P.Eka Pratiwi, Saskia van Putten, Chikako Senge, Olena Tykhostup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


There is a long tradition in linguistics of seeing each language as a powerful factor setting out predetermining grooves in how people express themselves. But how strong is this effect? We know that despite the forces of linguistic habit people nonetheless enjoy some freedom in formulating their thoughts. Can we measure the relative contributions of language structures and individual variation to how people formulate statements about the world? Do accounts of typological differences need to take individual variation into account, and is such variation more prevalent in some kinds of linguistic domains than others? In this paper, we deploy a parallax corpus across thirteen languages from around the world and explore four case studies of linguistic choice, two grammatical and two semantic. We assess whether differences are accounted adequately just by individual participant variation, just by language information, or whether taking into account both helps account for the patterns we see. We do this through comparisons of statistical models. Our results make it clear that participants using the same language do not always behave similarly and this is especially true of our semantic variables.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-232
Number of pages54
JournalLanguage Documentation and Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Corpus-based typology
  • Family problems picture task
  • Model comparison
  • Sapir-whorf hypothesis
  • Social cognition


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