Workshop on Categories of Information Structure across Languages

Dejan Matic Dejan.Matic at MPI.NL
Wed Mar 7 14:20:42 UTC 2012

Categories of Information Structure across Languages

Nijmegen, Netherlands,
09-Nov-2012 - 10-Nov-2012

The workshop, organised by the Syntax, Typology and Information 
Structure Group (MPI for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen) intends to address 
the question of the universality of information structure categories of 
topic, focus, contrast, etc.

Invited speakers include:

Nomi Erteschik-Shir
Ricardo Etxepare
M. M. Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest
Jeanette Gundel
Kees Hengeveld
Daniel Wedgwood
Malte Zimmermann

The debate on the (non-)universality of linguistic categories has become 
highly topical in the past decade, but despite the intensity of the 
discussion, no consensus seems to be in sight. The positions come in two 
basic flavours, universalist and particularistic, with many shadings in 
between the extremes (Houser et al. 2002, Everett 2005, Nevins et al. 
2009, Evans & Levinson 2009, Haspelmath 2010, to name just a few). The 
categories of information structure (topic, focus, contrast, and 
similar) could be of special interest in the ongoing debate. From the 
communicative point of view, the function of IS to manage the common 
ground between interlocutors. There is no reason to doubt that 
communicators, irrespective of the language they use or the culture they 
use it in, need to regulate and control the way the information is 
transferred in conversation. Information structure as a communicative 
phenomenon thus stands a good chance of being universal.

This is where it becomes interesting. Is this potentially universal 
feature of human communication necessarily reflected in the grammar of 
all languages? If this is the case, is it reflected though identical, 
merely similar, or completely different categories? Are there linguistic 
systems in which no IS-based grammatical categories are attested, and 
how do speakers of such languages control the information flow? On the 
methodological side, how do we establish the identity of two IS 
categories from different languages and what criteria can be used to 
establish differences? If there is variation, is it parametric or arbitrary?

These kinds of questions have been asked surprisingly rarely in the rich 
literature on IS, although both universalist and particularistic views 
have been expressed recently (Zimmermann & Onea 2011, Matić & Wedgwood, 
to appear). In order to fill in this gap and contribute to the 
universality debate from a new viewpoint, we would like to elicit 
contributions of all theoretical persuasions on the above questions and 
other related issues.

The call is open for proposals which address pragmatic, semantic, 
morphosyntactic and/or prosodic aspects of the (non-)universality of IS 
categories, from a theoretical, methodological, or typological 
perspective. Studies dealing with interesting aspects of the 
(non-)universality of IS categories in particular languages are also 
explicitly welcome.

Abstracts should be at most 500 words long, not including examples and 
references, and they should be anonymous. Include contact information, 
affiliation, and abstract title in the body of your email. Submissions 
should be sent to:

dejan.matic at

Important Dates:

Deadline for abstract submission: March 15, 2012
Notification of acceptance: April 15, 2012
Conference date: November 9-10, 2012


Dejan Matic
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Wundtlaan 1, 6525 XD Nijmegen, The Netherlands
phone   +31 24 3521 187
fax     +31 24 3521 213
e-mail  dejan.matic at

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