Paradigm gaps are associated with weird “distributional semantics” properties: Russian defective nouns and their case and number paradigms

Yu-Ying Chuang*, Dunstan Brown, Harald Baayen, Roger Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the phenomenon of defectiveness in Russian case and number noun paradigms from the perspective of distributional semantics. We made use of word embeddings, high-dimensional vectors trained from large text corpora, and compared the observed paradigms of nouns that are defective in the genitive plural, as suggested by Zaliznjak (1977), with the observed paradigms for non-defective nouns. When the embeddings of about 20,000 inflected forms were projected onto a two-dimensional space, clusters of case and number within case were found, suggesting global semantic similarity for words with the same inflectional features. Moreover, defective lexemes were characterized by lower semantic transparency, in that inflected forms of the same lexeme are se- mantically less similar to each other, and their meanings are also more idiosyncratic. Furthermore, compared to non-defective lexemes, inflected forms from defective lexemes are further away from the idealized average case-number meanings, obtained by averaging over the vectors of all inflected forms of the same case-number combination. As a consequence, the semantics of defective forms are predicted less precisely by a simple model of conceptualization that assumes that the meaning of a given Russian inflected form is approximated well by the sum of pertinent embeddings of the lexeme, case, and number within case. We conclude that the relationship between defectiveness and semantics, at least the kind captured by word embeddings, is stronger than has been anticipated previously.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalThe Mental Lexicon
Early online date30 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2023

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