LINGUIST List 23.4679

Thu Nov 08 2012

Calls: Syntax, Morphology, Typology, Historical Linguistics/Croatia

Editor for this issue: Alison Zaharee <>

Date: 08-Nov-2012
From: Georg Höhn <>
Subject: Patterns in Domain-restricted Properties
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Full Title: Patterns in Domain-restricted Properties
Date: 18-Sep-2013 - 21-Sep-2013 Location: Split, Croatia Contact Person: Georg Höhn
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics; Morphology; Syntax; Typology

Call Deadline: 12-Nov-2012

Meeting Description:

Cross-linguistic comparison shows that the properties that have been used to characterise languages are (mostly) not 'holistic'. That is to say, they either do not or only rarely apply in all (relevant) domains of a given language, but rather seem to be instantiated to a greater or lesser extent. Take, for instance, the classical morphological types proposed by 19th and early 20th century philologists and anthropologist-linguists (principally, the Schlegels, Humboldt, Schleicher and Sapir): we no longer expect to identify languages which are isolating, fusional/inflectional, agglutinating or polysynthetic through and through.

A question that has not received systematic attention, however, is whether systems showing mixed properties exhibit distributions that are systematically sensitive to specific features (e.g. nominal vs. verbal, finite vs. non-finite, inflectional vs. derivational, specific classes of verbs or nouns etc.). In other words, can we identify patterns in and/or restrictions on the partial (i.e. domain-specific) presence of a property? Is the distribution of mixed properties predictable? Is it productive to think in terms of the hierarchically organised 'scales' that have been identified for phenomena like relative-clause formation, argument encoding and diatheses (cf. i.a. Silverstein 1976, Keenan & Comrie 1977, Dixon 1979) in other domains too? Might it be possible to think in terms of parametric settings reflecting varying degrees of 'myopia', with the same phenomenon being permitted crosslinguistically in domains defined by more or less specific features?

As an example, consider null arguments. Several distributional splits can be observed here. One is whether nominals can be null regardless of their grammatical function. Thus topical subjects and direct and indirect objects can all remain unpronounced in many Asian languages, whereas in typical null subject languages like Italian, only topical subjects can be null (cf. so-called 'topic drop' or 'radical pro-drop' vs. 'subject drop', Huang 1984; Neeleman and Szendröi 2008). In the subject domain, we observe a second split with respect to referentiality: in 'full' null subject languages of the Romance type, both referential and non-referential pronominal subjects can be left unpronounced, whereas in Icelandic, only non- or quasi-referential subjects can be null and in German, it is exclusively non-referential subjects which are null (cf. the so-called 'semi null subject languages', Platzack 1985, Rizzi 1986). Further splits distinguish between the omissibility of first- and second- vs third-person subjects (cf. so-called 'partial null subject languages'; Holmberg, Nayudu & Sheehan 2009, and Holmberg 2010), and whether null-subject phenomena extend beyond the clausal domain or not (cf. Rodrigues 2004). Apparently, then, null-argument phenomena seem to be more or less sensitive to properties like information structural and referential prominence, with a purely formal consideration (distribution across phrases of different types) also potentially coming into the picture.

2nd Call for Papers:

Further syntactic phenomena that might lend themselves to the kind of treatment described could include:

- Degrees of word-order harmony/amount of head-finality (all heads are final, all verbal heads final, all argument-selecting verbal heads final, all lexical verbs in the scope of negation final, etc)- The distribution of Verb Second (all non-peripheral clauses vs. root clauses only vs. questions only, etc.)- Degrees of verb movement (short vs. long, finite vs. infinitival, indicative vs. subjunctive, etc.)- The distribution of Wh-movement (all in-situ vs. all moved vs. structurally highest moved vs. only arguments moved etc.; and do matrix and non-matrix environments behave in the same way)- Reflexes of split-ergativity (dependent on person vs. aspect/tense vs. agentivity, etc.; corners of ergativity in nominals)- The distribution of Negative Concord (strict vs non-strict vs. partial [i.e. negative concord only between sentential negator and negative indefinites, but not between negative indefinites], etc.)- Targets of focus constructions (e.g. unrestricted vs. DPs and VPs vs. DPs only vs. heads only, etc.)

On the morphological side, relevant issues might include:

- DP-internal concord (marking on all constituents vs. on a subset of determiners, numerals, adjectives, etc.)- Concatenative vs. non-concatenative morphology, that is, degrees of 'templaticity'. We can, for example, think of verb templates as proposed for Bantu (Meeussen 1967, Nurse 2003, Hyman 2007) and Athapaskan (Kari 1989, Rice 2000), and Root and Pattern morphology as found in Afroasiatic (McCarthy 1979, Kramer 2009) and Sign Languages (Sandler and Lillo-Martin 2006). One question is whether there is a relation between the amount of inflectional and/or derivational morphology and the templatic organisation of the inflectional system (Stump 1996).- Degrees of incorporation (generally possible as in Mohawk (Baker 1988), Athapaskan (Rice 2000) and Algonquian (Denny 1989) vs. pronoun incorporation as in Chichewa (Bresnan & Mchombo 1987) vs. preposition incorporation as in Mandarin (Gao 2005) vs, restricted noun incorporation as in Dutch, etc.)

Research Questions:

The purpose of this workshop is to stimulate investigation of the domain-sensitivity of grammatical properties such as those introduced above. In particular, we are interested in establishing whether it is possible to think of the cross-linguistic dialectal or diachronic distribution of morphosyntactic/syntactic/morphological properties in terms of domains of varying sizes, with different systems exhibiting the same phenomenon in larger or smaller domains and/or in domains defined with reference to different features. Where we observe different domain sizes, the question arises whether these can be understood in terms of superset/subset or other relations.

Potential research questions, then, are:

- What patterns (if any) emerge with respect to specific (classes of) properties?- Do we regularly see what appear to be macro, meso and/or micro instantiations of the same properties in different languages, regardless of whether they are related to one another or not?- Are there interactions between different properties?- Can we make sensible typological generalizations on the basis of these patterns? For example, do we find a scalar pattern in the different domain sizes, are there pure binary choices, or do we also find 'scattered' properties that cannot be captured in the terms of a binary choice or scales?- Considering that languages make partial decisions regarding isolation, agglutination, polysynthesis and fusion, are these choices predictable? And how can this discrepancy be tied to other morphological and syntactic properties of the system?- Is there a connection between the nature of the domain in which a given property surfaces and its diachronic stability?- Do children acquiring properties that seem to be subject to domain-size effects go through stages where they either over- or underestimate the size of the domain to which the property in question applies?

As will be evident, these questions are comparative in nature, but they may well draw on data from closely related varieties and also on diachronic data relating to a single language over time. We also specifically encourage but do not limit the selection to abstracts dealing with aspects of word structure.

We invite potential participants to send us a provisional title and a short abstract (300 words) by 12 November 2012. Please send this information in an email to Georg Höhn (

We need to submit the workshop proposal to the SLE Scientific Committee for evaluation by 15 November. If this workshop proposal is accepted, full abstracts will be required by 15 January 2013.

More information on the conference, the way in which it is organised and registration/SLE membership fee can be found on their website:


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Branigan, P. 2012. Macroparameter Learnability:an Algonquian Case Study. Unpublished ms: Memorial University, Newfoundland.

Bresnan, J. and Mchombo, S. 1987. Topic, pronoun, and agreement in Chichewa. Language 63 (4):741-782.

Denny, J.P. 1989. Polysynthesis in Algonquian and Eskimo. In D.B. Gerdts and K. Michelson (eds) Theoretical perspectives on Native American languages, 230-258. Albany: SUNY Press.

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Rodrigues, C. 2004. Loss of Morphology and A-Movement out of Case Domains. Ph.D. dissertation: Maryland.

Sandler, W. and Lillo-Martin, D. 2006. Sign Language and Linguistic Universals. Cambridge: CUP.

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Page Updated: 08-Nov-2012