Syntactic entrainment: The repetition of syntactic structures in event descriptions
Syntactic structures can convey certain (subtle)emergent properties of events. For example, the double-object dative (“the doctor is giving a patient pills”)can convey the successful transfer of possession, whereas its syntactic alternative, the prepositional dative (“the doctor is giving pills to a patient”), conveys just a transfer to a location. Four experiments explore how syntactic structures may become associated with particular semantic content – such as these emergent properties of events. Experiment 1 provides evidence that speakers form associations between syntactic structures and particular event depictions. Experiment 2 shows that these associations also hold for different depictions of the same events. Experiments 3 and 4 implicate representations of the semantic features of events in these associations. Taken together, these results reveal an effect we term syntactic entrainment that is well positioned to reflect the recalibration of the strength of the mappings or associations that allow syntactic structures to convey emergent properties of events.