[Lingtyp] Workshop: "Diachronic and functional explanations in linguistic typology", 49th Annual Meeting of the SLE in Naples, August 31 – September 3, 2016.

Ilja Seržant ilja.serzants at uni-mainz.de
Fri Sep 25 15:13:28 UTC 2015

(apologies for multiple posting)

This workshop has to be first approved by the SLE so, at this stage, we 
just call for preliminary abstracts until November 10, 2015.

Diachronic and functional explanations in linguistic typology***

One of the goals of linguistic research is to identify generalizations 
that go beyond the language-specific level of description in order to 
formulate functional explanations that have cross-linguistic validity 
and which would allow conclusions about the cognitive basis of human 
language. The aim of this workshop is to bring together historical 
linguists, typologists, functional linguists and other specialists to 
explore the role of diachronic evidence in establishing such 
explanations. For example, functional motivations as the following ones 
have been proposed in the literature:

·form-meaning correspondences, for example, the principles of economy 
and iconicity (e.g. Haiman 1983; Haspelmath 2008);

·various hierarchies, such as the Extended Animacy Hierarchy in Croft 
(2003:130), explaining coding splits and other distributional patterns 
found in different grammatical categories;

·motivations for cross-linguistic types of argument coding (Comrie 1989);

·universal constraints on word order, e.g. Hawkins' (1994) Early 
Immediate Constituents principle, which can help explain the 
Greenbergian correlations.

These and other motivations have been assumed largely on the basis of 
synchronic distributions (/static evidence/) and, subsequently, 
explained by cognitive and/or processing principles. However, it has 
been emphasized recently that establishing such a motivation is only 
possible when synchronic correlations are backed up with diachronic 
evidence. Cristofaro (2012) argues, for example, that synchronic 
alignment systems found in a number of languages in fact result from 
different language-specific diachronic changes and are largely 
determined by the respective grammaticalization paths with no evidence 
for universals at any stage of the development. Thus, particular 
patterns may simply reveal themselves as diachronically/etymologically 
biased towards a particular constellation, in which case the assumption 
of some underlying universal mechanism linking these patterns may become 
redundant (/diachronic biases/). Another example is Dispersion Theory in 
phonology, which seeks to explain cross-linguistic variation in vowel 
inventories in terms of conflicting functional constraints operating at 
the synchronic level. As shown by Vaux & Samuels (2015), this theory 
fails to explain a range of idiosyncratic phonological patterns and 
should be superseded by an evolutionary account (e.g. Blevins 2004).

At the same time, the diachronic inquiry may provide /dynamic evidence/ 
for or against a particular functional motivation or universal if one 
can demonstrate that there is a particular development (or lack thereof) 
that makes a language increasingly adhere to the respective functional 
motivation or universal. While the traditional typology is mainly based 
on static evidence without taking into account diachronic biases, 
dynamic evidence is largely an unexplored field, studies like Bickel et 
al. (2015) being an exception.

We invite contributions that inquire into the methodology for 
identifying functional motivations or universals, and specifically into 
the weight of the static vs. dynamic evidence for functional 
explanations as well as the role of diachronic biases. Possible 
questions that might be addressed include (but are not confined to) the 

-are there functional motivations and universals that remain to be 
operative on the synchronic level despite distinct diachronic pathways 
leading to them?

-what kind of evidence should be provided to claim a functional 
motivation or a universal pattern?

-how to disentangle positive dynamic evidence from diachronic biases?

-what is the role of competing motivations?

-what are other factors that may potentially override functional 
motivations and to what extent may they do so?

The workshop will be part of the 49th annual meeting of the SLE in 
Naples, August 31 – September 3, 2016. Presentations will be maximally 
20 minutes, allowing 10 minutes for discussion and room changes.


We invite short abstracts of 300 words, excluding references and 
examples. Abstracts should be in an editable format (e.g. .doc or .docx; 
no pdf will be considered) and fully anonymous. Abstracts should be sent 
/to all workshop organizers/:

ilja.serzants at uni-mainz.de,

kschmidtkebode at gmail.com,

natalevs at gmail.com,

michaelis at shh.mpg.de.

The name(s) and affiliation(s) of the author(s) should be provided in 
the main body of your message.

The deadline for the submission of the short abstract is *November 10, 

Note that if your abstract has been included in the workshop and the 
workshop has been accepted, you will also have to prepare a full 
abstract and submit it to be reviewed by the SLE scientific committee. 
The deadline for the submission of full abstracts is *January 15, 2016*.


Ilja Seržant (U Mainz)

Natalia Levshina (F.R.S.-FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain)

Karsten Schmidtke-Bode (U Jena)

Susanne M. Michaelis (MPI Jena)


Bickel, Balthasar, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich and Taras Zakharko. 2015. 
Typological evidence against universal effects of referential scales on 
case alignment. In Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, Andrej Malchukov and Marc 
Richards (eds.), /Scales: A cross-disciplinary perspective on 
referential hierarchies/, 7–44. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Blevins, Juliette. 2004. /Evolutionary phonology: The emergence of sound 
patterns/. Cambrdige: Cambridge University Press.

Comrie, Bernard. 1989. /Language universals and linguistic typology/, 
2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cristofaro, Sonia. 2012. Cognitive explanations, distributional 
evidence, and diachrony, /Studies in Language/ 36(3), 645-670.

Croft, William. 2003. /Typology and Universals. /2nd edition. Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press.

Haiman, John. 1983. Iconic and economic motivation. /Language/ 59(4), 

Haspelmath, Martin. 2008. Frequency vs. iconicity in explaining 
grammatical asymmetries. /Cognitive Linguistics /19(1), 1-33.

Hawkins, J.A. 1994. /A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency/. 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vaux, Bert and Bridget Samuels. 2015. Explaining vowel systems: 
dispersion theory vs natural selection. /The Linguistic Review/ 32(3), 

Ilja A. Seržant, postdoc
Johannes-Gutenberg-University of Mainz
TriMCo Project / FB 05 / Institut für Slavistik
Saarstraße 21, 55099 Mainz, Germany

URL: http://www.staff.uni-mainz.de/iserzan/

Tel.: + 49 6131 39-26503
Room: 02-444

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