Why lexical syntax?

Evidence from English object pronoun enclitics


  • Joan Bresnan Stanford University


lexical syntax, probabilistic linguistics, lexical sharing, usage-based-linguistics


The English object pronoun enclitics are of particular interest because they and their host verbs are syntactically independent in c-structure but show classic evidence of lexicalization: (1) allomorphy of the enclitic in the context of the host, (2) prosodic wordhood with the host, and (3) the existence of special pragmatics and meanings. Moreover, their cooccurrence probabilities in spoken corpora predict both (4) the probability of enclisis and (5) the probability of special pragmatics and meanings. The latter points are further signs of shared lexical representation, because within a hybrid exemplar-based lexicon, cooccurrence probabilities approximate the strength of lexical representations.

Previous formal accounts of the enclitic object pronouns fail to account for their syntax, and none explain the new probabilistic evidence presented here. The hybrid formal and usage-based framework of Bresnan (2021a) provides a coherent explanation of these facts, and it broadens and deepens the evidence for lexical syntax.