A reappraisal of dependency length minimization as a linguistic universal

Faculty: Samar Husain


Dependency length minimization is widely regarded as a cross-linguistic universal reflecting syntactic complexity in natural languages. A typical way to operationalize dependency length in corpus-based studies has been to count the number of words between syntactically related words. However, such a formulation ignores the syntactic nature of the linguistic material that intervenes a dependency. In this work, we investigate if the number of syntactic heads (rather than the number of words) that intervene a dependency better captures the syntactic complexity across languages. We demonstrate that the dependency length minimization constraint in terms of the number of words could arise as a consequence of constraints on the intervening heads and the tree properties such as node arity. The current study highlights the importance of syntactic heads as central regions of structure building during processing. The results show that when syntactically related words are nonadjacent, increased structure building in the intervening region is avoided.

A reappraisal of dependency length minimization as a linguistic universal. Himanshu Yadav, Shubham Mittal and Samar Husain. Open Mind. 2022.