23.23, Calls: Syntax, Typology/Sweden

Tue Jan 3 19:34:48 UTC 2012

LINGUIST List: Vol-23-23. Tue Jan 03 2012. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 23.23, Calls: Syntax, Typology/Sweden

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Date: 03-Jan-2012
From: Jenneke van der Wal [jennekevanderwal at gmail.com]
Subject: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2012 14:33:47
From: Jenneke van der Wal [jennekevanderwal at gmail.com]
Subject: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality

E-mail this message to a friend:
Full Title: Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality 

Date: 29-Aug-2012 - 01-Sep-2012
Location: Stockholm, Sweden 
Contact Person: Jenneke van der Wal
Meeting Email: jennekevanderwal at gmail.com

Linguistic Field(s): Syntax; Typology 

Call Deadline: 15-Jan-2012 

Meeting Description:

Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality
Workshop at the 45th meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE)
Organizers: Timothy Bazalgette & Jenneke van der Wal

Languages have been classified as 'configurational' or 'non-configurational' largely on the basis of word-order properties. English is the standard example of a configurational language, where the syntactic functions of subject and object can be systematically deduced from their position in the sentence. Li and Thompson (1976) claim that some languages, such as Chinese, can, by contrast, be insightfully described by taking the discourse notion of topic -and not that of syntactic subject- to be basic. In these topic-prominent languages, assigning a specific syntactic position to the discourse function 'topic' is thus viewed as more important than doing so in relation to the syntactic function 'subject'. Hence, 'discourse-configurational' languages are defined by É. Kiss (1995:6) as languages in which the discourse-semantic functions of topic and/or focus are associated with particular structural positions. 

It is, however, unlikely that there is a strict division of languages into configurational vs. discourse-configurational, as we find variation in the extent to which word order is determined by discourse functions. For example, the Celtic languages make use of topicalization to a left-peripheral position but are otherwise rigid VSO languages (Tallerman 1997); Zulu has SVO order with a low focus position (Buell 2007); and, in Cayuga, word order is 'fully pragmatically based' (Mithun 1992). One of the aims in this workshop is to broaden our knowledge of how languages encode information structure in their (morpho)syntax. We therefore invite descriptive papers introducing new data on language-specific discourse-configurational properties, as well as typological papers on (implicative) tendencies in the cross-linguistic variation attested in this domain of discourse configurationality.

We would particularly like to discuss these data in the light of recent proposals in minimalist theory regarding the nature of parameters: on the one hand, the so-called Borer-Chomsky Conjecture (cf. Baker 2008) postulates purely lexical parameters, which lends itself to the description of small differences between varieties (see e.g. Kayne 2005) while, on the other hand, typological clustering appears to reflect a more structured field of variation than predicted by this approach (e.g. Baker 2008, Roberts and Holmberg 2010). We consider discourse configurationality to be a particularly fertile area of investigation as the crosslinguistic variation in this area remains understudied, with the result that it has not, to date, played a significant role in the development of parametric theory.

Hence, a further question this workshop intends to address is whether this variation can be straightforwardly captured by one or more syntactic parameters. While the Configurationality Parameter (Chomsky 1981, Hale 1983) represents a starting point for attempts to understand the syntactic basis of configurationality, it is now known that a parameter of this type cannot account for attested variation in this domain. We therefore also invite theoretically oriented papers addressing the question of configurationality and the types of parameters that may underlie the attested crosslinguistic patterns. 

Call for Papers:

As part of the 45th meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea, this workshop is primarily interested in the manner in which different languages encode discourse information (topic, focus) in their syntax, with a view to reaching a better understanding of the parametric variation in this domain, both from an empirical and a theoretical perspective. We therefore aim to bring together descriptive, typological and theoretical approaches, inviting:

1. Descriptive papers presenting new data on discourse-configurational properties (i.e., data from lesser-studied languages, or data that remained underexposed in academic discussions so far)
2. Typological papers comparing properties associated with discourse configurationality cross-linguistically and proposing implicational hierarchies of these properties
3. Theoretically oriented papers putting forth hypotheses as to one or more parameters that could account for the variation in discourse configurationality


We intend to further discuss empirical data reflecting the variation observed in the area of discourse configurationality, with the objective of relating these data to theoretical issues such as those outlined above. Specific questions we would like to discuss include, but are not limited to, the following:
- What are the limits to discourse configurationality? For example, do languages with a dedicated focus position always allow topic fronting?  Are there any languages which consistently wh-move/focalize/topicalize rightwards? 
- What forms of grammatical encoding aside from word order can be considered discourse-configurational?
- What variation do we find in the use of the high and low peripheries? For example, movement to a low periphery (scrambling or object preposing) is in some languages associated with definiteness and topicality, and in others with focus in the position immediately following the verb (Watters 1979). Are there languages which only make use of medial and never left-peripheral topic/focus positions (cf. i.a. Belletti 2004 on the lower topic/focus field)?
- Can we identify a parametrically determined typology of discourse-configurational languages?
- What discourse-configurationality microparameters can we identify? Is it justified to postulate a macroparameter relating to discourse-configurationality? If so, how does this macroparameter relate to other macroparameters that have been postulated in the literature (see in particular the on-going work of Mark Baker). Is it possible to view the macroparameter as the consequence of a particular aggregation of microparameters (cf. Roberts & Holmberg 2010)? 
- Is it plausible to think of any instances of discourse-configurational variation in strictly PF terms, as suggested by Berwick & Chomsky (2011)?
- Do we find similar discourse-configurational effects in noun phrases? Are the observed information-structural effects associated with the CP and vP periphery mirrored in nominals, i.e. a left periphery of the DP (cf. Ihsane 2008)?
- Are there any insights to be derived from a diachronic consideration of changes in discourse-informational properties?

Abstracts for 20 minute presentations should be uploaded on the conference website (http://www.sle2012.eu) indicating that the presenter wants to be part of this workshop 'Parametric Variation in Discourse-Configurationality'. Please note that abstracts should 

(1) be anonymous,
(2) contain between 400 and 500 words (exclusive of references),
(3) explicitly state research questions, approach, data and results,
(4) be submitted before January 15, 2012.

See the conference website for more information, or contact Jenneke (jennekevanderwal at gmail.com).


Baker, Mark. 2008. The macroparameter in a microparametric world. In The Limits of Syntactic Variation, edited by Theresa Biberauer, 351-374. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Belletti, Adriana. 2004. Aspects of the low IP area. In The Structure of CP and IP, edited by Luigi Rizzi, 16-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berwick, Robert, and Noam Chomsky. (2011). Biolinguistics: The current state of its evolution and development. In Biolinguistic investigations, edited by Anna M. Di Sciullo and Cedric Boeckx, 19-41. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Buell, Leston. 2007. Evaluating the immediate postverbal position as a focus position in Zulu. In Selected proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Theory and African Language Documentation, edited by Masangu Matondo, Fiona McLaughlin, and Eric Potsdam, 166-172.

Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

É. Kiss, Katalin, ed. 1995. Discourse Configurational Languages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hale, Ken. 1983. Warlpiri and the grammar of non-configurational languages. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 1:5-47.

Ihsane, T. 2008. The Layered DP: Form and Meaning of French Indefinites. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kayne, Richard. 2005. Some notes on comparative syntax, with special reference to English and French. In Handbook of Comparative Syntax, edited by Guglielmo Cinque and Richard Kayne, 3-69. New York: Oxford University Press.

Li, Charles N., and Sandra A. Thompson. 1976. Subject and topic: a new typology of language. In Subject and Topic, edited by Charles Li, 457-490. New York: Academic Press.

Mithun, Marianne. 1987. Is basic word order universal? In Coherence and grounding in discourse, edited by Russell S. Tomlin, 281-328. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Roberts, Ian and Anders Holmberg. 2010. Introduction: Parameters in minimalist theory. In Parametric  Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory, edited by Theresa Biberauer, Anders Holmberg, Ian Roberts and Michelle Sheehan, 1-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tallerman, Maggie. 1997. Word order in Celtic. In Word Order in the Languages of Europe, edited by Anna Siewierska, 21-46. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Watters, John R. 1979. Focus in Aghem: a study of its formal correlates and typology. In Aghem grammatical structure. Southern California Occasional Papers 7, edited by Larry M. Hyman, 137-197. Los Angeles: University of Southern California.

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