[Lingtyp] CfP: Typology and formal theory / SLE 2019 workshop proposal

Laura Becker laura.becker at uni-leipzig.de
Sun Sep 23 13:04:00 EDT 2018

Typology and formal theories

Workshop proposal for the 52nd Annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica
Europaea, Leipzig, August 21–24 2019.

Workshop convenors:

Matías Guzmán Naranjo

Laura Becker

Our aim for this workshop is to bring together typologists with a
theory-neutral background and linguists working in formal theories and who
are at the same time interested in crosslinguistic variation and universal

The discussion will center around the relation between typology and
theory-driven linguistic research. The main question guiding the discussion
will be: which aspects of formal linguistic theory are necessary,
complementary, orthogonal or even misleading for typological research?

We ask for non-anonymous 300-word abstracts (.doc & .pdf) for inclusion
into the workshop proposal to be submitted to the SLE organizers.

Please send your abstract to: mguzmann89 at gmail.com

Deadline: November 4, 2018

Workshop description:

Typology is concerned with the grammatical phenomena and their variation
across languages, universal tendencies, and areal patterns (e.g. Bickel
2007, Lazard 2005, Nichols 2007). While typology has traditionally been
associated with a theory-neutral approach, several typologists have
advocated that it nevertheless presupposes a “Basic Linguistic Theory”
(e.g. Dixon 2010, Dryer 2006a,b), and is therefore not atheoretical.
Nevertheless, most typological research does not assume particular formal
theoretical views on how linguistic structures work, how grammatical
information should be represented, whether constraints or rules as well as
which syntactic, morphological, or phonological operations should be

On the one hand, there are at least two main motivating factors behind the
preference for theory neutral approaches in typology. First, explanations
for the attested crosslinguistic patterns are viewed to lie outside of
grammar (e.g. diachrony & language change, economy & frequency, iconicity,
parsing & processing), which means that a grammatical theory needs to
adequately describe any given language (what are languages like?), but it
does not need to be explanatory itself (why are languages the way they
are?) (Dryer 2006a). Second, formal theories are often seen as being
incompatible with and insufficient for describing linguistic diversity
(e.g. Haspelmath 2010b).

On the other hand, we find important theoretical work with a heavy
typological component in a variety of different frameworks. Some examples
include: Aissen (1999, 2003) in Optimality Theory (OT) which models
grammatical relations and differential object marking; similarly, Malchukov
(2006) provides an OT analysis (and explanation) of nominalization patterns
in the world’s languages. From the Distributed Morphology (DM) perspective,
Bobaljik (2012) establishes (and aims at explaining) universal patterns in
comparative morphology. Cinque (1999), who proposes a universal syntactic
structure within a cartographic, generative syntax based on large-scale
crosslinguistic observations, or Baker (2015) which develops a
morphosyntactic theory of case, couched in generative syntax and which is
equally built on a large number of typologically diverse languages. Mycock
(2015) provides a survey of constituent questions from an Lexical
Functional Grammar (LFG) perspective. Ackerman and Nikolaeva (2014) offer a
typological overview of relative clauses from a constructionist and
Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) perspective. Also based on
large sample, Stiebels (2002) models the interaction between economy and
expressivity in argument linking using Minimalist Morphology (MM) and
Lexical Decomposition Grammar (LDG).

The formal theories in these examples aim at being typologically adequate,
and in some cases even at explaining typological diversity. However, it is
not clear whether the formal machinery has led to or has been fundamental
to their typological generalizations, and not the other way around.

A considerable number of studies have argued against the universality of
language-specific concepts; in other words, grammatical relations are
viewed as language-specific (e.g. Croft 2001, Dryer 1997, Cristofaro 2009).
Along these lines, Haspelmath (2007, 2010a, 2011, 2016, to appear) argues
that the concepts of e.g. “subject” or “object” are not the same for any
given pair of  languages, and that we have to distinguish concepts used for
typological comparison from the concepts used for language-specific
descriptions. This, however, seems inconsistent with a view where a single
theory could be successfully applied to many (or all) languages, given that
theories make reference to language-specific criteria. However, a formal
theory that uses more abstract, language-independent criteria to define
grammatical concepts may as well provide comparative concepts that can be
used for typology (cf. Newmeyer 2007).

One possible example of using a formal theory as the basis of comparative
concepts is the CoreGram Project (Müller 2015). The approach taken here is
to write formal (HPSG) grammars of typologically diverse languages, and to
compare which principles and structures, if any, are common to all of them.
It is still, however, too early to draw any definitive conclusions. In a
sense, HPSG then becomes a framework for defining comparative concepts.

Despite such examples of works that crosscut between formal linguistic
theory and typology, there is still a lot of disagreement and uncertainty
regarding the nature of the relationship between typology and formal
grammar (e.g. Cinque 2007, Dryer 2006a,b, Haspelmath 2010b, Newmeyer 2002,
2007, 2010, Nichols 2007).

Possible topics for papers in this workshop include, but are not limited
to, the following ones:


   How can formal theoretical views help to develop or to guide typological

   What are possible advantages or disadvantages of theory-neutral vs.
   theory-driven typology?

   When have formal theories misled typological research? What are
   potential dangers of theory-driven typological studies?

   Finding comparative concepts on which crosslinguistic studies can be
   based being a core issue in typology; can formal theories help in
   establishing more precise and fine-grained comparative concepts that allow
   us to adequately capture crosslinguistic variation and guarantee
   crosslinguistic applicability?

We invite both general contributions to these topics as well as case
studies concerned with specific phenomena that help us to understand how
linguistic theory and typology can interact, or that relate in some other
way to the main questions of  the workshop.


Ackerman, Farrell, and Irina Nikolaeva Irina. 2014. Descriptive typology
and linguistic theory. CSLI Lecture Notes 212.

Aissen, Judith. 1999. Markedness and subject choice in Optimality
Theory. Natural
Language & Linguistic Theory 17(4), 673–711.

Aissen, Judith. 2003. Differential object marking: Iconicity vs.
economy. Natural
Language & Linguistic Theory 21(3), 435–83.

Baker, Mark. 2015. Case: Its principles and its parameters. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Bickel, Balthasar. 2007. Typology in the 21st century: Major current
developments.” Linguistic Typology 11(1), 239–251.

Bobaljik, Jonathan David. 2012. Universals in comparative morphology:
Suppletion, superlatives, and the structure of words. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Cinque, Guglielmo. 1999. Adverbs and functional heads: A cross-linguistic
perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cinque, Guglielmo. 2007. A note on linguistic theory and typology. Linguistic
Typology 11(1), 93-106.

Cristofaro, Sonia. 2009. Grammatical categories and relations: Universality
vs. language-specificity and construction-specificity. Language and
Linguistics Compass 3(1), 441–479.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical construction grammar: Syntactic theory in
typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dixon, Robert. 2010. Basic Linguistic Theory Volume 1: Methodology. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Dryer, Matthew. 1997. Are grammatical relations universal? In Essays on
language function and language type: Dedicated to T. Givón, edited by Joan
Bybee, John Haiman, and Sandra A. Thompson. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 115–43.

Dryer, Matthew. 2006a. Descriptive theories, explanatory theories, and
Basic Linguistic Theory. In Catching Language: Issues in grammar writing.
Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 207–34.

Dryer, Matthew. 2006b. Functionalism and the metalanguage-theory confusion.
In Phonology,  morphology, and  the empirical imperative:  Papers in honour
of Bruce  Derwing, edited by Grace Wiebe, Gary Libben, Tom Priestly, Ron
Smyth, and Sam Wang. Taipei: The  Crane Publishing Company, 2006, 27–59.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2007. Pre-established categories don’t exist:
Consequences for language description and typology.” Linguistic Typology
11(1), 119–132.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2010a. Comparative concepts and descriptive categories
in crosslinguistic studies. Language 86(3), 663-687.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2010b. Framework-free grammatical theory. In The Oxford
Handbook of Linguistic Analysis.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 341–65.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2011. On S, A, P, T, and R as comparative concepts for
alignment typology. Linguistic typology 15(3), 535-567.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2016. The serial verb construction: Comparative concept
and cross-linguistic generalizations. Language and Linguistics 17(3),

Haspelmath, Martin. to appear. How comparative concepts and descriptive
linguistic categories are different.

Lazard, Gilbert. 2005. What are we typologists doing? In Linguistic
Diversity and Language Theories, edited by Zygmunt Frajzyngier, Adam
Hodges, and David S. Rood, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1–23.

Malchukov, Andrej. 2006. Constraining nominalization: Function/form
competition. Linguistics 44(5), 973–1009.

Müller, Stefan. 2015. The CoreGram project: Theoretical linguistics, theory
development and verification. Journal of Language Modelling 3(1), 21-86.

Mycock, Louise. 2007. The typology of constituent questions: A Lexical
Functional Grammar analysis of ‘wh’-questions. Ph.D. thesis, University of

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 2002. Optimality and functionality: A critique of
functionally-based Optimality-Theoretic syntax. Natural Language &
Linguistic Theory 20(1), 43–80.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 2007. Linguistic typology requires crosslinguistic
formal categories. Linguistic Typology 11( 1), 133–157.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 2010. On comparative concepts and descriptive
categories: A reply to Haspelmath. Language 86(3), 688-695.

Nichols, Johanna. 2007. What, if anything, is typology? Linguistic Typology
11(1), 231–238.

Prince, Alan, & Smolensky, Paul. 1993. Optimality Theory: Constraint
interaction in generative grammar. Computer Science Technical Reports. 664.
University of Colorado Boulder.

Stiebels, Barbara. 2002. Typologie des Argumentlinkings: Ökonomie und
Expressivität. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
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