Syntactic dependencies are head/modifier relations between words in a sentence that organize sentences into a syntactic tree structure. The general principle that languages have a preference to group syntactically related words close together can be made precise as a preference for shorter dependencies. We examine evidence for this principle in the development of languages’ grammars as well as in the choices made by individual speakers where syntactic variation is licensed. We survey evidence from corpus studies, computational simulations, and experiments on comprehension; altogether, this evidence makes a compelling case for dependency length minimization as an important factor in language structure and cognition.


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