Call reminder: Continuity and Change in Grammar, Cambridge

David Willis dwew2 at
Mon Aug 20 09:16:01 UTC 2007

Conference: Continuity and Change in Grammar

Cambridge, 18-20 March 2008

We are pleased to announce an international conference on Continuity  
and Change in Grammar, which will take place from 18-20 March 2008 at  
the University of Cambridge. The focus will be on theoretical and  
methodological aspects of morphosyntactic change and conservatism.

The aim of the conference is to bring together researchers working on  
different aspects of linguistic transmission in order to enhance our  
understanding of what makes languages change and what in turn  
prevents them from changing.

Factors that are thought to play a role in the diachronic development  
of languages include first and (imperfect) second language  
acquisition, the latter typically under conditions of language  
contact. The role of language contact and resulting (biased) bi- or  
multilingualism in morpho-syntactic change, and the question of  
whether in fact there can be any entirely language-internal change  
are topics that have gained much interest recently. If language  
contact has a role in triggering change, can it equally be shown to  
play a role in preventing it? What other factors can prevent or  
inhibit a change that might be expected on the basis that other  
languages show a comparable change under comparable conditions?

A particular focus of the conference will be syntactic continuity,  
that is, cases where syntactic change fails to happen, or at least is  
delayed, even though change would be expected on the basis of  
parallel changes in other languages. An example is Jespersen's Cycle,  
which occurred in a continuum of languages beginning in early Old  
Norse in northern Europe, and giving the appearance of spreading  
south from Scandinavia via German, English, Dutch, Welsh, Breton,  
French and northern Italian dialects. In Jespersen's Cycle as it is  
found in several European languages, a preverbal negation marker is  
first reinforced and later replaced by a postverbal one. As  
Jespersen's Cycle seems to have spread geographically (essentially  
from north to south) in the course of the last millennium and to  
affect languages from different subgroups of Indo-European, it has  
been suggested that this might be a contact phenomenon or even a  
manifestation of a more general western European convergence area  
(Ramat and Bernini 1990, Bernini and Ramat 1996, Haspelmath 1998,  
2001). However, Polish and especially Czech, which have been in very  
close contact with German (and Yiddish) for centuries, have never  
undergone a change of this sort in their negation systems, even  
though their preverbal negation markers have undergone considerable  
weakening (in Czech, for example, ne behaves like a verbal prefix).  
Such resistance to change appears to cast doubt on the role of  
contact in the spread of postverbal adverbial negation. A topic that  
belongs to this general field of syntactic changes that are expected,  
but fail to happen, are changes which occur in some dialects of a  
given language but are delayed in others. The conference aims at  
encouraging discussion on what might cause syntactic continuity in  
general. This is an entirely novel perspective, as previous research  
has exclusively focused on explaining linguistic change.

Topics addressed at the conference may be from a range of  
perspectives, theoretical linguistic as well as a language  
acquisitional, contact linguistic and sociolinguistic, and the  
conference aims at creating discussion and exchange between  
researchers with generative and non-generative backgrounds and also  
beyond (historical) linguistics itself. Longstanding points of  
dispute have been the perceived directionality and the gradualness of  
syntactic change. Directionality seems to conflict with generative  
models of linguistic change, which localise abrupt reanalyses or  
parameter resetting in individual speakers. However, long-term  
pathways and cycles do seem to be observable as well. How can this  
clash be reconciled? Much research has been devoted to accommodating  
gradualness within a generative conception of syntactic change, such  
as the grammar competition approach (Kroch 1989 etc.). However,  
problems with grammar competition approaches have not remained  
unnoticed, and invite reconsideration.

We particularly invite submissions addressing the following questions:

- contact-induced language change

- first language acquisition and syntactic change

- bilingualism and syntactic change

- directionality, gradualness and long-term developments

- absence of syntactic change / syntactic conservatism

- general theoretical models of syntactic change and continuity,  
theoretical or computational

- empirical case studies discussing instances of continuity and/or  
change in grammar

- change in the expression of negation

- linguistic and cultural contact in the Middle Ages

We invite anonymous submissions for 20+10 minute presentations, which  
will be reviewed by an international committee of referees. Abstracts  
should be submitted in .pdf format via EasyChair. Go to http://, create an account if you do not yet have  
one and login as an author. The text of the abstract itself must be  
anonymous; you will be asked to fill in your name, affiliation and  
email address when you create your EasyChair account. This ensures a  
fair and unbiased review procedure. Abstracts should not exceed one  
page of A4, with one-inch margins on all sides, with the possibility  
of one additional page for graphs, figures, examples and references.  
Deadline for submissions is 1 October 2007. Notification of  
acceptance is around 1 November 2007.

Invited Speakers:

Jan-Terje Faarlund (Oslo)

Richard Ingham (Birmingham)

John Sundquist (Purdue)

Sarah Grey Thomason (Michigan)

Organising committee: David Willis, Anne Breitbarth, Chris Lucas
Web Site: 

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