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LINGUIST List 22.4118

Fri Oct 21 2011

Calls: Syntax, Typology/Sweden

Editor for this issue: Alison Zaharee <alisonlinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Jenneke van der Wal , Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality

Message 1: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality
Date: 21-Oct-2011
From: Jenneke van der Wal <jennekevanderwalgmail.com>
Subject: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality
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Full Title: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality

Date: 29-Aug-2012 - 01-Sep-2012
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Contact Person: Jenneke van der Wal
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Syntax; Typology

Call Deadline: 09-Nov-2011

Meeting Description:

Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality
Proposal for workshop within the 45th meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE)
Organizers: Timothy Bazalgette & Jenneke van der Wal

Languages have been classified as 'configurational' or 'non-configurational' largely on the basis of word-order properties. English is the standard example of a configurational language, where the syntactic functions of subject and object can be systematically deduced from their position in the sentence. Li and Thompson (1976) claim that some languages, such as Chinese, can, by contrast, be insightfully described by taking the discourse notion of topic and not that of syntactic subject to be basic. In these topic-prominent languages, assigning a specific syntactic position to the discourse function 'topic' is thus viewed as more important than doing so in relation to the syntactic function 'subject'. Hence, 'discourse-configurational' languages are defined by É. Kiss (1995:6) as languages in which the discourse-semantic functions of topic and/or focus are associated with particular structural positions.

It is, however, unlikely that there is a strict division of languages into configurational vs. discourse-configurational, as we find variation in the extent to which word order is determined by discourse functions. For example, the Celtic languages make extensive use of topicalization and focalization but are otherwise rigid VSO languages (Tallerman 1997); Zulu has SVO order with a low focus position (Buell 2007); and, in Cayuga, word order is 'fully pragmatically based' (Mithun 1992). One of the questions this workshop intends to address is whether this variation can be straightforwardly captured by one or more syntactic parameters.

While the Configurationality Parameter (Chomsky 1981, Hale 1983) represents a starting point for attempts to understand the syntactic basis of configurationality, it is now known that a parameter of this type cannot account for attested variation in this domain. The aim of our project is to revisit the question of configurationality in the context of the minimalist program, in an attempt to gain new perspectives on the types of parameters that may underlie the attested crosslinguistic patterns. One minimalist hypothesis is that syntax may vary only in the features of (functional) items in the lexicon (see Chomsky (1995); this is the Borer-Chomsky Conjecture alluded to above). Typically, this approach lends itself to describing subtle 'microparametric' differences between varieties, but it is less clear whether it can deliver insight into more 'macroparametric' variation, including the apparent typological clustering of languages into 'free' vs. 'rigid' word order. As a hypothesis, we may suppose that features vary in restricting or permitting A'-movement through lower and higher peripheries within the sentence, possibly corresponding to the phase edges of Chomsky (2000, 2001, 2008). This approach seems promising in addressing variation like wh-movement vs. wh-in-situ, scrambling, and low vs. high focus positions. Additionally, it may be that there are other theoretical mechanisms that could offer insight into what underlies variation.

Our aim in this workshop is to bring together theory and typological data, specifically that from lesser studied languages, reflecting the variation observed in the area of discourse-configurationality, with the purpose of beginning to unravel the syntactic basis of discourse-configurationality and the nature of micro- and macroparameters.

Call for Papers:

This workshop is primarily interested in the manner in which different languages encode discourse information in the syntax, with a view to reaching a better understanding of the parametric variation in this domain, both from an empirical and a theoretical perspective. We therefore welcome contributions of new data relating to discourse-configurationality, particularly from lesser-studied languages, while also inviting proposals that explain such variation. While certainly not excluding more descriptive typological-comparative presentations, we would particularly like to discuss these data in the light of recent proposals in minimalist theory regarding the nature of parameters: on the one hand, the so-called Borer-Chomsky Conjecture (cf. Baker 2008) postulates purely lexical parameters, which lends itself to the description of small differences between varieties (see e.g. Kayne 2005) while, on the other hand, typological clustering appears to reflect a more structured field of variation than predicted by this approach (e.g. Baker 2008, Roberts and Holmberg 2010). We consider discourse-configurationality to be a particularly fertile area of investigation as the crosslinguistic variation in this area remains understudied, with the result that it has not, to date, played a significant role in the development of parametric theory.

We intend to organize a workshop to further discuss empirical data reflecting the variation observed in the area of discourse-configurationality, with the objective to relate these data to theoretical issues such as those outlined above. Specific questions we would like to discuss include, but are not limited to, the following:

- What are the limits to discourse-configurationality? For example, do languages with a dedicated focus position always allow topic fronting? Are there any languages which consistently wh-move/focalize/topicalize rightwards?

- What forms of grammatical encoding aside from word order can be considered discourse-configurational?

- What variation do we find in the use of the high and low peripheries? For example, movement to a low periphery (scrambling or object preposing) is in some languages associated with definiteness and topicality and in others with focus in the position immediately following the verb (Watters 1979). Are there languages which only make use of medial and never left-peripheral topic/focus positions (cf. i.a. Belletti 2004 on the lower topic/focus field)?

- Can we identify a parametrically determined typology of discourse-configurational languages?

- What discourse-configurationality microparameters can we identify, and what kinds of elements do these depend on?

- Is it justified to postulate a macroparameter relating to discourse-configurationality? If so, how does this macroparameter relate to other macroparameters that have been postulated in the literature (see in particular the on-going work of Mark Baker)

- Assuming the existence of both a discourse-configurationality macroparameter and discourse-configurationality microparameters, can we establish how these interrelate? Is it possible to view the macroparameter as the consequence of a particular aggregation of microparameters (cf. Roberts & Holmberg 2010)?

- Is it plausible to think of any instances of discourse-configurational variation in strictly PF terms, as suggested by Berwick & Chomsky (2011)?

- Are the observed information-structural effects associated with the CP and vP periphery mirrored in nominals, i.e. a left periphery of the DP? Are there any placement and/or marking options (particles and/or intonation, for example) available in clauses that are unattested in nominals, or vice versa?

- Are there any insights to be derived from a diachronic consideration of changes in discourse-informational properties?

By addressing these questions, our workshop aims to broaden the typological test-bed for the syntactic conditions applying at the interface between narrow syntax and discourse. We hope to bring together theory and typological data, specifically that from lesser studied languages, with the purpose of beginning to unravel the syntactic basis of discourse-configurationality and the nature of micro- and macroparameters.

We invite potential participants to send a provisional title and a short abstract (100-200 words) before 9 November 2010. Please send this e-mail expressing your interest in the workshop to Jenneke van der Wal (jennekevanderwalgmail.com).

We need to submit the workshop proposal by the 15 November to the SLE Scientific Committee for evaluation. If the workshop proposal is accepted, full abstracts will have to be submitted by 15 January 2012.

More information on the conference, procedure and registration/SLE membership fee can be found on their website:



Baker, Mark. 2008. The macroparameter in a microparametric world. In The Limits of Syntactic Variation, edited by Theresa Biberauer, 351-374. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Belletti, Adriana. 2004. Aspects of the low IP area. In The Structure of CP and IP, edited by Luigi Rizzi, 16-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berwick, Robert, & Chomsky, Noam. (2011). Biolinguistics: The current state of its evolution and development. In Biolinguistic investigations, edited by Anna M. Di Sciullo and Cedric Boeckx, 19-41. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Buell, Leston. 2007. Evaluating the immediate postverbal position as a focus position in Zulu. In Selected proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Theory and African Language Documentation, edited by Masangu Matondo, Fiona McLaughlin, and Eric Potsdam pp. 166-172.

Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework. In Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist Syntax in Honor of Howard Lasnik, edited by Roger Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 89-155. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by Phase. In Ken Hale: A Life in Language, edited by Michael Kenstowicz, 1-52. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2008. On Phases. In Foundational Issues in Linguistic Theory, edited by Robert Freidin, Carlos P. Otero and Maria L. Zubizarreta, 133-166. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

É. Kiss, Katalin, ed. 1995. Discourse Configurational Languages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hale, Ken. 1983. Warlpiri and the grammar of non-configurational languages. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 1:5-47.

Kayne, Richard. 2005. Some notes on comparative syntax, with special reference to English and French. In Handbook of Comparative Syntax, edited by Guglielmo Cinque and Richard Kayne, 3-69. New York: Oxford University Press.

Li, Charles N., and Sandra A. Thompson. 1976. Subject and topic: a new typology of language. In Subject and Topic, edited by Charles Li, 457-490. New York: Academic Press.

Roberts, Ian and Anders Holmberg. 2010. Introduction: Parameters in minimalist theory. In Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory, edited by Theresa Biberauer, Anders Holmberg, Ian Roberts and Michelle Sheehan,1-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mithun, Marianne. 1987. Is basic word order universal? In Coherence and grounding in discourse, edited by Russell S. Tomlin, p.281-328. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tallerman, Maggie. 1997. Word order in Celtic. In Word Order in the Languages of Europe, edited by Anna Siewierska, 21-46. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Watters, John R. 1979. Focus in Aghem: a study of its formal correlates and typology. In Aghem grammatical structure. Southern California Occasional Papers 7, edited by Larry M. Hyman, 137-197. Los Angeles: University of Southern California.

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