A Usage-Based Approach to Spanish Verbs of 'Becoming'


tokens, Spanish, analysis, linguistics


A usage-based analysis of four constructions in Spanish, each with a different verb meaning 'become' used with an animate subject and an adjective, provides evidence for exemplar representations of constructions, with analogy to these represen accounting for productive use. We analyze 423 tokens from spoken and written corpora, which we take to represent a subset of a speaker's experience with these constructions. The analysis, based on token frequency and semantic similarity, leads to the organization of tokens with two of the verbs into dense clusters of semantically related adjectives centered on a high-frequency exemplar. The other two verbs are used with more diverse sets of adjectives. We supplement the initial analysis with an experiment in which speakers were asked to rate the semantic similarity of pairs of adjectives. When subjected to multidimensional scaling, the results of the experiment support the initial analysis. We argue that novel instances of verb + adjective sequences are based on analogies to previous experience and not on rules that refer to abstract features. In a second experiment, speakers judged the acceptability of sentences taken from the corpora; the results showed that high-frequency expressions and expres semantically similar to the high-frequency ones lead to an expression being judged more acceptable. Overall the results support exemplar representations, which are heavily based on usage experience.

Original Publication Citation

2006. “A Usage-based Approach to Spanish Verbs of Becoming.” Article coauthored with Joan Bybee. Language 82.323-354

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date










University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor