Call for papers -- Typology of labile verbs: Focus on diachrony -- Thessaloniki, 3-5 April 2009

Kulikov, L.I. L.Kulikov at HUM.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Thu Nov 13 10:40:43 UTC 2008

Typology of labile verbs:
Focus on diachrony

Call for papers

The term 'labile' refers to verbs or verbal forms which can show valency
alternation, i.e. changes in syntactic pattern, with no formal change in
the verb. Very often (but not always) the term 'labile' is only employed to
refer to verbs (or verbal forms) which can be employed both transitively
and intransitively, as in (1-2); some scholars use other, less widely
accepted terms in this sense, such as 'ambitransitive' (R. M. W. Dixon
1994) or 'optionally transitive' (J. G. Miller 1993):

(1) English       
 a. John broke the vase     
 b. The vase broke

(2) Greek
 a. O      Janis efage   mesimeriano
    the:NOM  Janis:NOM  ate:3SG lunch:ACC
    'Janis ate lunch'
 b. O        Janis   efage                
    the:NOM  Janis:NOM  ate:3SG
    'Janis ate'

(1) exemplifies Patient-preserving lability (P-lability), while (2)
instantiates an Agent-preserving lability (A-lability). Other types of
syntactic alternation, such as locative alternation (cf. John sprayed paint
on the wall ~ John sprayed the wall with paint) or dative shift (Mary gave
John an apple ~ Mary gave an apple to John) are usually treated separately
from P- and A-lability. Of particular interest is P-lability, common in
ergative-absolutive languages (for instance, in many Daghestan languages),
quite frequent also in some nominative-accusative languages (such as
English, Greek, German or French), but (almost) entirely lacking in many
others (e.g. in Slavic or Uralic).
Although there are a number of studies dealing with this phenomenon in
individual languages, such as English (e.g. Keyser & Roeper 1984; McMillion
2006), French (Larjavaara 2000), Greek (Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou 1999,
2004, Theophanopoulou-Kontou 1983-4, 2004, Tsimpli 1989, 2006) and some
others, a cross-linguistic study of lability is rather neglected (with a
few exceptions such as Letuchiy 2006). Even less attention has been paid to
the diachronic aspects of labile verbs. In many cases, we cannot explain
why and how the lability emerges and disappears. We do not know why in
several languages labile verbs become more productive and the class of
labile verbs is constantly increasing (as in English, Greek or some
Daghestan languages), while in some other languages this class is
decreasing (as in Sanskrit) or entirely lacking (as in modern Turkic or
Kartvelian languages). Only a few mechanisms responsible for the emergence
of lability (such as the phonetic merger of transitive and intransitive
forms or the deletion of the reflexive pronoun, attested in the history of
English) are mentioned in the literature. The few studies dealing with the
diachronic aspects of labile verbs, their rise, development or decay and
loss include Kitazume 1996 (on English), Kulikov 2003 (on Vedic Sanskrit)
and Lavidas 2004 (on Greek).
The idea of our workshop is to bring together scholars interested in
lability and to open up new horizons in the research of this phenomenon,
paying special attention to its diachronic aspects. The issues to be
addressed include:
*  theoretical and descriptive aspects of a study of labile verbs:
    - should such verbs be treated as one lexical unit with two different
syntactic uses or as two separate lexical units,
    - which of the two constructions may be considered as basic
(transitive or intransitive)?
*  issues in a synchronic typological study of lability:
    - for which semantic and syntactic classes of verbs is the labile
pattern particularly common or uncommon?
    - are there any correlations between the grammatical characteristics
of a form and its lability?
    - labile patterning of finite vs. non-finite forms (infinitives,
participles etc.)
    - relationships between labile verbs, voices and valency-changing
    - types of lability (cf. reflexive lability: Mary washed the baby ~
Mary washed; reciprocal lability: Mary and John kissed the baby ~ Mary and
John kissed; etc.)
   Particularly encouraged are papers dealing with
*  diachronic aspects of lability:
    - mechanisms of the emergence and expansion of labile verbs (as e.g.
in English or Greek)
    - mechanisms of the decay and disappearance of labile verbs (as e.g.
in Vedic)
    - which semantic and syntactic classes of verbs tend to become labile
or non-labile
    - lability considered as an instance of syncretism (of transitive and
intransitive) and its possible relationships with other types of syncretism
or grammatical homonymy 
    - what are the main evolutionary types of lability attested for Indo-
European and other language families and groups with a well-documented
    - what is the position of Indo-European in a diachronic typological
classification of lability types?

The workshop will be organized within the 19th International Symposium on
Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (ISTAL 19), Thessaloniki, Greece, 3-5
April 2009. Please visit <> , where you will
also find practical information.
Only electronic submissions by e-mail will be considered. Abstracts should
be 300-500 words long, not exceeding one page (A4). Please send the one-
page abstract of your paper by 15 December 2008 to:
L.Kulikov at and kulikovli at . Applicants will be
notified on abstract acceptance by 20 January 2009.

Leonid Kulikov                                        
Nikolaos Lavidas


Alexiadou, A. & Anagnostopoulou, E. 1999: "Non-active morphology and the
direction of transitivity alternations". NELS 29, 27-40.
Alexiadou, A. & Anagnostopoulou, E. 2004: "Voice morphology in the
causative-inchoative alternation: evidence for a non-unified structural
analysis of unaccusatives". In Α. Αlexiadou, E. Anagnostopoulou & M.
Everaert (eds), The Unaccusativity Puzzle: Explorations of the Syntax-
Lexicon Interface. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 114-136.
Dixon, R. M. W. 1994: Ergativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
Keyser, S. J. & Roeper, T. 1984: "On the middle and ergative constructions
in English". Linguistic Inquiry 15, 381-416.
Kitazume, S. 1996: "Middles in English". Word 47, 161-183.
Kulikov, L. 2003: "The labile syntactic type in a diachronic perspective:
the case of Vedic". SKY Journal of Linguistics 16, 93-112.
Larjavaara, M. 2000: Présence ou absence de l'objet. Limites du possible en
français contemporain. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut.
Lavidas, N. 2004: "Causative alternations: synchronic and diachronic
tendencies". Studies in Greek Language 24, 369-381.
Letuchiy, A. 2006: Tipologija labil'nyx glagolov: Semantičeskie i
morfosintaksičeskie aspekty [A typology of labile verbs: semantic and
morphosyntactic aspects]. PhD Dissertation, Russian State University for
Humanities. [in Russian]
McMillion, A. 2006: Labile Verbs in English: their Meaning, Behavior and
Structure. PhD Dissertation, Stockholm University.
Miller, J. G. 1993: Complex Verb Formation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Theophanopoulou-Kontou, D. 1983-4: "Patient vs non patient orientation of
the action and the voice distinction in Modern Greek". Glossologia 2-3, 75-
Theophanopoulou-Kontou, D. 2004: "The structure of the VP and the
mediopassive morphology. The passives and anticausatives in Modern Greek".
Parousia 15-16, 173-206.
Tsimpli, I.-M. 1989: "On the properties of the passive affix in Μodern
Greek". UCL Working papers in Linguistics 1, 235-260.
Tsimpli, I.-M. 2006: "The acquisition of voice and transitivity
alternations in Greek as a native and second language". In S. Unshworth, T.
Parodi, A. Sorace & M. Young-Scholten (eds), Paths of Development in L1 and
L2 Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 15-55.
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