ProjectFORMULEARN – Learning formulaic creativity: Chunking in verbal art and speech

Basic data

Learning formulaic creativity: Chunking in verbal art and speech
01/04/2019 to 31/07/2021
Abstract / short description:
How do we learn to organize a language in chunks and to use those chunks creatively? To address this question, FORMULEARN rethinks formulaicity and creativity through discriminative learning in a complex dynamic system, shifting the focus from the written to the spoken word. Theories of chunking are based on abstract rules or on the storage of large numbers of exemplars, always with a view of linguistic knowledge as linear combinations of units, such as phonemes or morphemes. Recently, Baayen and collaborators have proposed that linguistic chunking is based on discriminative learning, which creates statistical expectations within the complex dynamic system of cues and outcomes underlying language. Instead of discrete units, computational models based on this paradigm use a ‘wide’ learning algorithm with thousands of input units representing summaries of changes in acoustic frequency bands, and with proxies for lexical meanings as output units. The Parry-Lord theory of oral composition-in-performance argued that oral singers produce complex poems out of rehearsed improvisation through the mastery of a system of formulas, chunks that integrate phrasal, metrical, and semantic structures. Ubiquitous throughout the history of the species, oral traditional performance is the original form not only of poetry but also of public discourse in general. Its comparison with speech and text can shed light on chunking formation, on how chunking is learned, and on how it relates to meaning and creativity. FORMULEARN will reconsider formulaicity and creativity by contrasting these theories, seeking to design the first quantitative studies of formulaic creativity not based on morphosyntactic patterns, but on sequences of acoustic or multimodal cues linked to semantic contrasts. Expected insights will be related to creativity and formulaic economy, multimodality and the reduction of uncertainty, or the relation between formulaic learning and cognitive development.
cognition and oral poetics
oral formulaic composition
discriminative learning and language units
cognitive linguistics and complex dynamic systems
blending theory and language

Involved staff


Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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