Meeting: Dialects as a Testing Ground for Theories of Change

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Oct 5 16:43:29 UTC 2007


Dialects as a Testing Ground for Theories of Change

Date: 04-Aug-2008 - 08-Aug-2008
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
Contact Person: Gunther De Vogelaer
Meeting Email: gunther.devogelaerugent.be


Call Deadline: 01-Dec-2007

Meeting Description
Much theorizing in language change research is made without taking into
account dialect data. However, we believe that the study of dialect
variation has the  potential to play a central role in the process of
finding answers to the fundamental questions of theoretical historical
linguistics. Unlike most cross-linguistic and diachronic data, dialect data
are unusually high in resolution, and they seem to be superior data to build
a theory of linguistic change on.

In the present one-day workshop we invite contributions which relate a
clearly formulated theoretical question of historical linguistic interest
with a well-defined, solid empirical base. The following provides a
(non-exhaustive) list of suggested research questions:

- Which is the contribution of current linguistic theory for the explanation
of
spatial variation and variant spread?
- Which is the contribution of dialect data for the further development of
theories of linguistic change?
- What are the driving forces of variant selection? Are these factors social
or
linguistic?
- Is variation the result or the cause of change, or both?

We welcome papers dealing with all domains of grammar (phonology,
morphology, syntax, semantics), and we intend to cover a wide variety of
languages. In particular, we encourage papers adopting a dialect
geographical approach.

In recent years, historical linguists have highlighted the importance of
grammatical variation and variant spread for our understanding of the
fundamental mechanisms of linguistic change. Many approaches distinguish
between the emergence of novel variants vs. the selection of variants in the
course of speakers' use (cf., e.g., Weinreich, Labov & Herzog's 1968
distinction between the 'actuation' and 'transition problem'). This is most
obvious in evolutionary inspired approaches. But the perhaps most central
ingredient of a model for linguistic change is still relatively little
understood, and therefore controversial: Which factors are responsible for
variant selection and spread?

For instance, Croft (2000) assumes language-internal factors to be relevant
only for the emergence of novel variants, but variant selection is claimed
to be guided exclusively by social, extra-linguistic factors. Others
(Haspelmath 1999, Seiler 2005, De Vogelaer 2006) have claimed that
language-internal factors play a role in variant selection, too.

Much theorizing in language change research is made without taking into
account dialect data. However, we believe that the study of dialect
variation has the potential to play a central role in the process of finding
answers to the fundamental questions of theoretical historical linguistics.
Unlike most cross-linguistic and diachronic data, dialect data are unusually
high in resolution. In addition, they seem to be superior data to build a
theory of linguistic change on, for a couple of reasons: First, dialects are
relatively free of standardization and therefore more tolerant against
variant competition in grammar. Second, variants gradually spread not only
on the temporal, but also
on the spatial dimension. By a careful study of subtle dialect differences
in space we therefore might expect to uncover the minimal differences of
implementational steps that have taken place in the course of linguistic
history. Dialectology indeed seems to be privileged to find answers for a
number of questions raised by modern theories of linguistic change, and thus
has a rare chance to play a leading role in the further development of
linguistic theory, historical linguistics and language typology (see
Kortmann 2002, Horvath 2004, and Filppula et al. 2005:vii for similar
observations). Furthermore, we think it is the right time for
dialectologists to engage in debates on variation and change since there are
several large research projects on dialect variation being conducted in a
number of European countries (see Barbiers, van der Ham, Koeneman & Lekakou,
to appear, for an overview; cf. also the recently launched website
ttp://www.dialectsyntax.org/ <http://www.dialectsyntax.org/>).

In particular, we encourage papers adopting a dialect geographical approach.
Additional questions that emerge when taking a dialect geographical approach
have to do with the existence of transitional zones, where competing
variants co-occur. This poses a potential problem for many models of
grammar: what does the existence of transitional zones mean for our modeling
of linguistic competence, i.e., can the linguistic competence of individuals
living in transitional zones best be described in terms of competing
grammars, the interaction of categorical rules or constraints, or do we need
a probabilistic model? Other relevant questions include the following:

- Do geolinguistic data provide evidence for and/or against particular
models of
change?
- What can we conclude from the mechanisms of variant spread with regard to
our
understanding of linguistic competence?
- Can we find a speaker-based explanation for the fact that some variants
spread
at the expense of others?

Organizers
Gunther De Vogelaer (FWO Flanders / Ghent), Guido Seiler (Konstanz / Zurich)


Publication
Since it is our intention to publish a volume with papers from the section,
we will prefer unpublished research over papers presenting data that have
been published elsewhere.

Format
Presentations are allotted 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion.
Abstracts
should be as specific as possible, with a statement of topic, approach and
conclusions, and may be at most 400 words (not including data and
references,
which may be placed on an optional second page). Please submit your abstract

anonymously as an email attachment (only Microsoft Word or PDF formats) to
Gunther De Vogelaer (gunther.devogelaerugent.be) or Guido Seiler
(gseilerds.unizh.ch). The body text of the email message must contain the
following information:
(1) paper title
(2) name(s) of author(s)
(3) affiliation(s) of author(s)
(4) address where notification of acceptance should be sent
(5) phone number for each author
(6) email address for each author
(7) subfield (syntax, phonology, etc.)

Important Dates
The submission deadline is December 1st, 2007. Notification of acceptance
will
be sent by January 20th, 2008.
http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-2894.html

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