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Conference Information

Full Title: Syntactic Variation and Change

Location: Lund, Sweden
Start Date: 02-Apr-2013 - 02-Apr-2013
Contact: Ida Larsson
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting URL:
Meeting Description: GLOW 36 Workshop: Syntactic Variation and Change
Lund, April 2, 2013
Invited speaker: Marit Westergaard, University of Tromsø

Since the introduction of the principles-and-parameters theory of universal grammar (Chomsky 1981), comparative studies of syntactic phenomena have been a constant domain of inquiry from both a synchronic and a diachronic point of view. A dominant hypothesis during the 80s and early 90s was that linguistic variation is due to varying settings of parameters that determine clusters of surface properties (see e.g. Rizzi 1982, Baker 1989, Holmberg & Platzack 1995 for synchronic studies and e.g. van Kemenade 1987, Falk 1993 and Roberts 1993 for diachrony). The hypothesis predicts there to be clusters of surface effects of these deep-lying parameters in the languages of the world. However, few attempts to identify universally valid macroparameters have been completely successful, and in many cases, grammatical properties do not seem to be linked to each other in the way that was originally suggested; the linguistic reality is simply too complex to be governed by a limited set of macroparameters (see e.g. Newmeyer 2004, Roberts & Holmberg 2005 and Baker 2008 for discussion).

Over the last decades, the focus of interest has changed from macroparameters to microvariation, and considerable progress has been made in the microcomparative work on closely related languages (or dialects) (see e.g. Kayne 2000). Large projects such as ASit on Italian dialects, FRED on English dialects, SAND on Dutch dialects, and ScanDiaSyn on Scandinavian (to name but a few) have collected a large amount of new data that has enriched the theoretical discussion of a wide range of syntactic phenomena (including e.g. doubling, negative concord, noun phrase syntax and verb placement).

The questions of synchronic syntactic variation and parameters are obviously closely tied to questions of syntactic change. However, the diachronic origin of the observed microvariation has received rather little attention. Theoretically oriented research on syntactic change has focused on questions regarding the relationship between acquisition and change (e.g. Lightfoot & Westergaard 2007), as well as grammaticalization in terms of economy principles (e.g. van Gelderen 2004). An old matter of dispute is the question of how the gradualness of change from a diachronic perspective is represented in the formal and intrinsically non-gradual grammatical system: in terms of competing grammars (Kroch 1989 etc.) or as variation within one single grammar (Koopman 1990, Lightfoot 1991 etc.). There have, however, been few explicit attempts to address the problem of the apparent gradience of on-going change within the microcomparative paradigm.

A better understanding of both synchronic and diachronic variation, and the relation between the two, is clearly a prerequisite for more general theoretical insights in the field of syntactic change. Earlier historical studies on syntactic change now need to be re-evaluated and framed in different terms, and the variation revealed in the synchronic dialect studies needs to be related to diachrony. The results from the dialect projects clearly raise the questions: how did the observed differences between closely related varieties emerge, and how can they be explained?
Linguistic Subfield: Historical Linguistics; Syntax
LL Issue: 23.4153

This is a session of the following meeting:
Generative Linguistics in the Old World 36

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