Last CfP: ICHL20 workshop on Reconstructing Syntax

johanna.barddal at johanna.barddal at
Mon Nov 8 13:03:21 UTC 2010

Last call for papers

ICHL-20 in Osaka, Japan, 24-30 July 2011
Workshop title: Reconstructing Syntax

Organizers: Jóhanna Barðdal, University of Bergen & Spike Gildea,
University of Oregon


Historical-comparative reconstruction has traditionally been focused
on lexical, morphological and phonological comparisons, while
syntactic reconstruction has either been systematically left
unattended, regarded as fruitless or uninteresting, or even rebuked
(cf. Watkins 1964, Jeffers 1976, Lightfoot 1979, 2006, Harrison 2003,
Pires & Thomason 2008, Mengden 2008, inter alia). The reason for this
is that syntactic structures have been regarded as fundamentally
different from, for instance, morphological structures, in several
respects. That is, syntactic structures are larger and more complex
units than morphological units. Semantically they have not been
regarded on par with morphological units either, in that their meaning
is regarded as the sum of the meaning of the lexical parts that
instantiate them, and because of this semantic compositionality they
have not been regarded as being arbitrary form-meaning correspondences
like words. It has also been argued in the literature that syntactic
structures are not inherited in the same way as the vocabulary
(Lightfoot 1979 and later work), that there is no cognate material to
compare when comparing sentences across daughter languages (Jeffers
1976), there is no regularity of syntactic change, as opposed to the
regularity of phonological change (Lightfoot 2002, Pirus & Thomason
2008), and that there is no arbitrariness found in syntax (Harrison
2003), all of which render syntactic reconstruction fundamentally
different from phonological reconstruction.

Recent work within historical-comparative syntax takes issue with this
view of syntactic reconstruction (Kikusawa 2003, Harris 2008, Bauern
2008, Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010), arguing that the
concepts of "cognate status," "arbitrariness" and "regularity" are
non-problematic for syntactic reconstruction. This is so, first,
because cognates are also found in syntax (Kikusawa 2003, Barðdal &
Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010). Second, because the arbitrariness
requirement is simply not needed in syntax, as it's role is first and
foremost to aid in deciding on genetic relatedness, which is usually
not an issue when doing syntactic reconstruction (Harrison 2003,
Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010). And, third, because a) the
sound laws are only regular by definition (Hoenigswald 1978), and b)
the sound laws are basically stand-ins for a similarity metric when
deciding upon cognate status (Harrison 2003).

It has also recently been claimed (cf. Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009,
Barðdal 2010) that Construction Grammar is more easily extendible to
syntactic reconstruction than other frameworks, due to the basic
status of form-meaning/function pairings in that framework. This
creates a natural leap from synchronic form-meaning pairings to
historical reconstruction, based on form-meaning pairings.

This ICHL workshop aims at accommodating contributions including, but
not limited to, the following:

- The fundamental issues of reconstruction in general and syntactic
reconstruction in particular
- Individual case studies of syntactic reconstruction from different
languages and language families
- A comparison of how different theoretical frameworks may contribute
to syntactic reconstruction

Please send your abstracts of 500 words or less to Jóhanna Barðdal
(Johanna.Barddal at, no later than November 15th 2010, preferably
in pdf-format. A response on abstracts will be sent out on December
15th 2010.


Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2010. Construction-Based Historical-Comparative
Reconstruction. To appear in Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar.
Eds. Graeme Trousdale & Thomas Hoffmann. Oxford: Oxford University

Barðdal, Jóhanna & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2009. Reconstructing Syntax:
Construction Grammar and the Comparative Method. To appear in
Sign-Based Construction Grammar. Eds. Hans C. Boas & Ivan A. Sag.
Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Bowern, Claire. 2008. Syntactic Change and Syntactic Reconstruction in
Generative Grammar. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Eds.
Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 187-216. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ferraresi, Gisella & Maria Goldbach (eds.). 2008. Principles of
Syntactic Reconstruction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Harris, Alice C. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax: Reconstruction of
Patterns. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Eds. Gisela
Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 73-95. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Harrison, S. P. 2003. On the Limits of the Comparative Method. In The
Handbook of Historical Linguistics, eds. B. D. Joseph & R. D. Janda,
343-368. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hoenigswald, H. M. 1978. The Annus Mirabilis 1876 and Posterity.
Transactions of the Philological Society 76(1): 17-35.

Jeffers, Robert J. 1976. Syntactic Change and Syntactic
Reconstruction. In Current Progress in Historical Linguistics:
Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Historical
Linguistics, ed. William M. Christie, Jr., 1-15, Amsterdam.

Kikusawa, Ritsuko. 2003. The Development of Some Indonesian Pronominal
Systems. Historical Linguistics 2001: Selected Papers from the 15th
International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Melbourne, 13-17
August 2001, eds. Barry J. Blake, Kate Burridge & Jo Taylor, 237-268.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lightfoot, David. 1979. Principles of Diachronic Syntax. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Lightfoot, David W. 2002. Myths and the Prehistory of Grammars.
Journal of Linguistics 38(1): 113-136.

Lightfoot, David. 2006. How New Languages Emerge. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Mengden, Ferdinand von. 2008. Reconstructing Complex Structures: A
Typological Perspective. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction.
Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 97-119. Amsterdam: John

Pires, Acrisio & Sarah G. Thomason. 2008. How Much Syntactic
Reconstruction is Possible? In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction.
Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 27-72. Amsterdam: John

Watkins, Calvert. 1964. Preliminaries to the reconstruction of
Indo-European sentence structure. In Proceedings of the IX
International Congress of Linguists, ed. H.G. Lunt, 1035-1045. The
Hague: Mouton.

Jóhanna Barðdal
Research Associate Professor
Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies
University of Bergen
P.O. box 7805
NO-5020 Bergen
johanna.barddal at

Phone +47-55582438 (work)
Phone +47-55201117 (home)
Fax   +47-55589660 (work)
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