Categories and frequency: Cognition verbs in Spanish subject expression

Catherine E. Travis, Rena Torres Cacoullos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Are semantic classes of verbs genuine or do they merely mask idiosyncrasies of frequent verbs? Here, we examine the interplay between semantic classes and frequent verb-form com-binations, providing new evidence from variation patterns in spontaneous speech that linguistic categories are centered on high frequency members to which other members are similar. We offer an account of the well-known favoring effect of cognition verbs on Spanish subject pronoun expression by considering the role of high-frequency verbs (e.g., creer ‘think’ and saber ‘know’) and particular expressions ((yo) creo ‘I think’, (yo) no sé ‘I don’t know’). Analysis of variation in nearly 3000 tokens of unexpressed and pronominal subjects in conversational data replicates well-established predic-tors, but highlights that the cognition verb effect is really one of 1sg cognition verbs. In addition, particular expressions stand out for their high frequency relative to their component parts (for (yo) creo, proportion of lexical type, and proportion of pronoun). Further analysis of 1sg verbs with frequent expressions as fixed effects reveals shared patterns with other cognition verbs, including an association with non-coreferential contexts. Thus, classes can be identified by variation constraints and contextual distributions that are shared among class members and are measurably different from those of the more general variable structure. Cognition verbs in variable Spanish subject expression form a class anchored in lexically particular constructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Categories and frequency: Cognition verbs in Spanish subject expression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this