Transitivity prominence within and across modalities
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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We investigate transitivity prominence of verbs across signed and spoken languages, based on data from both valency dictionaries and corpora. Our methodology relies on the assumption that dictionary data and corpus-based measures of transitivity are comparable, and we find evidence in support of this through the direct comparison of these two types of data across several spoken languages. For the signed modality, we measure the transitivity prominence of verbs in five sign languages based on corpus data and compare the results to the transitivity prominence hierarchy for spoken languages reported in Haspelmath (2015). For each sign language, we create a hierarchy for 12 verb meanings based on the proportion of overt direct objects per verb meaning. We use these hierarchies to calculate correlations between languages – both signed and spoken – and find positive correlations between transitivity hierarchies. Additional findings of this study include the observation that locative arguments seem to behave differently than direct objects judging by our measures of transitivity, and that relatedness among sign languages does not straightforwardly imply similarity in transitivity hierarchies. We conclude that our findings provide support for a modality-independent, semantic basis of transitivity.