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Conference Information

Full Title: Diachronic Stability of Complex Verbal Morphology

Location: Poznań, Poland
Start Date: 11-Sep-2014 - 14-Sep-2014
Contact: Rik van Gijn
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: The distribution of (potentially) morphologically complex verb forms over the globe is clearly skewed (Bickel & Nichols 2013): complex inflectional verb forms are predominantly found in the Americas, Papua New Guinea, and north-eastern Asia. Africa and Australia present a more scattered picture, and Eurasian languages (with some notable exceptions) predominantly have lower inflectional complexity on the verb.

This geographical skewing raises the question whether verbal morphological complexity (in terms of many potential categories per verb) is diffused through contact. If so, this is rather unexpected from the perspective of language contact theories, which predict that very basic architectural features (such as morphological structure) are relatively resistant to contact-induced change (see e.g. Thomason & Kaufman 1988, Heine & Kuteva 2007, Dunn et al. 2007).

Another possible explanation for the skewed patterns may be that, rather than contact-induced similarities, they represent very old structures, which are in fact due to inheritance from an ancestor language far beyond the reach of the comparative method. Interestingly, this answer would give new life to the claims by early pre-typological grammarians that genetic affiliation can be shown by the comparison of morphological structure.

This workshop is dedicated to contributing to the advancement of our knowledge about the diachronic development of morphological complexity.


Bickel, Balthasar & Johanna Nichols. 2011. Inflectional Synthesis of the Verb. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 22. Available online at Accessed on 2013-09-20.

Dunn, M., Terrill, A., Reesink, G., Foley, R. A., & Levinson, S. C. 2005.Structural phylogenetics and the reconstruction of ancient language history.Science, 309(5743), 2072-2075.

Heine, Bernd & Tania Kuteva. 2007. The genesis of grammar: a reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomason, Sarah G. & Terrence D. Kaufman. 1988. Language contact, creolization, and genetic inheritance. University of California Press.
Linguistic Subfield: Historical Linguistics; Morphology; Typology
LL Issue: 24.3886

This is a session of the following meeting:
47th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea

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