Frequency effects and structural change - the Afrikaans preterite

  • Johanita Kirsten North-West University
Keywords: frequency, structural change, emergent grammar, exemplar model, preterite


According to emergent grammar and exemplar theory in cognitive linguistics, the frequency of an item affects its behaviour in terms of structural change. In this article, I illustrate how high frequency items, such as preterital modal auxiliaries and copulas in Afrikaans, resist regularising with the rest of the Afrikaans verbal system. Items with a moderately high frequency can resist change for a time, but succumb to it eventually, such as mog (“might”) and wis (“knew”). While the course of change can also be affected by other factors, such as het (“have”) and had (“had”), and dink (“think”) and gedink/dag/dog (“thought”) show, the data in diachronic Afrikaans corpora from 1911 to 2010 confirm that high frequency items resist structural change to a large extent, while low frequency items do not. This links with the cognitive representation of language and language processing, and illustrates how the use of language shapes the structure of language.