[Lingtyp] 24th ICHL Canberra - Workshop on trends in inflection

eugen.hill at uni-koeln.de eugen.hill at uni-koeln.de
Tue Jul 17 09:03:27 UTC 2018

Dear friends and colleagues,

if you are planning to attend the 24th International Conference on  
Historical Linguistics in Canberra next summer, please take a look at  
the proposal of a workshop on diachronic trends in inflection, which  
we would like to organize there (s. below).

If you find the topic interesting, it would be wonderful if you  
participate in our workshop with a talk. If you can imagine that,  
please notify us possibly soon, we have to submit our application  
(which should include five key-note speakers) by July 29th. At the  
moment we would only need a provisional title.

We also would very much appreciate it if you spread a word about the  
workshop among your colleagues and collaborators working on diachrony  
of inflection.

Many thanks in advance and the best whishes,

Eugen Hill (Cologne) & Paul Widmer (Zurich)
eugen.hill at uni-koeln.de
paul.widmer at uzh.ch


It is well known that in the development and subsequent evolution of  
inflection cross-linguistically recurrent patterns can be identified.  
Several patterns are robust enough to justify being called “trend”.  
The most well-known trends are, for instance, the following:

•        inflection trapped between the stem of a word and a former  
clitic tends to secondarily relocate toward a word-external position  
(so-called “externalization of inflection”, cf. Haspelmath 1993,  
Harris & Faarlund 2006, García-Castillero 2013),
•        conjugation patterns containing bound person-indexes tend to  
restructure on the basis of the 3rd person secondarily reanalysed as  
the bare stem (cf. so-called “Watkins’s law”, cf. most recently Miller  
2010: 196–198),
•        languages tend to abandon very short inflectional forms of  
nouns, pronouns and verbs either by replacing such forms with  
compounds or by tolerating defectiveness (cf. Strunk 1987).

The aim of the proposed workshop is to improve our present-day  
understanding of such cross-linguistic trends in the development and  
evolution of inflection by describing more trends and identifying the  
determinants which may be responsible for such trends.
To achieve this, the workshop will address the following particular  
issues resp. research questions.

-- Can more cross-linguistically recurrent patterns in development and  
evolution of inflection be discovered? How to look for them in a  
principled resp. systematic way?

In recent times more diachronic trends in inflection have been  
proposed (cf. Maiden 2004 on replication of suppletion in verbs and  
Hill 2015 in pronouns, Jacques & Antonov 2015 on direct/inverse  
systems in conjugation). All such trends have been discovered by means  
of directly looking into the development of languages either  
descending from a documented common ancestor (such as Latin in the  
case of Romance languages) or being closely related, thus allowing for  
a “shallow” reconstruction of an undocumented common ancestor (such as  
Proto-Slavic in the case of Slavic languages). The obvious advantage  
of this approach is the control over both the starting-point and the  
end-point of the relevant processes. Its disadvantage is the amount of  
information about the relevant languages which is needed for such an  
investigation. Is it possible to infer typological trends in the  
evolution of inflection from other sources, such as the synchronic  
cross-linguistic distribution of inflectional patterns? How to design  
an appropriate investigation?

-- Can trends be used for establishing uncommon or rare patterns of  
change? How to deal with conflicting trends?

Describing trends in inflection helps to structure the evidence in a  
way facilitating a more comprehensive investigation of inflectional  
change in the relevant domain. So, the description of externalization  
of inflection has led to the recent discovery of its rare opposite,  
i.e. secondary inflection emerging between constituents of  
morphologically complex words (cf. Majer 2015). On the back-ground of  
the Watkins’s law discussion, a rare case of a development towards a  
system with zero-index in the 2sg. has been described (cf. Grossman  
2016). Can more uncommon patterns of change be discovered? How to look  
for them in a more comprehensive resp. more systematic way?
At least in one case the data imply two trends running in opposite  
directions and possibly cancelling each other out in particular  
languages. In the case of bound person-indexes on verbs, the  
well-known transformations according to Watkins’s law imply a  
cross-linguistic trend toward a zero-index in the 3rd person  
contrasting with overt indexes in the 1st and 2nd persons. At the same  
time, taking into consideration the most common diachronic source of  
bound person-indexes on verbs, i.e. free standing personal pronouns,  
seems to reveal the opposite trend toward overtly indexing also for  
3rd person. The source in question frequently generates indexing  
patterns lacking an overt person-index for 3rd person (cf. Bybee 1988,  
Siewierska 2010, Cristofaro 2013). A clear synchronic preference for  
overt indexes in all three persons (cf. Siewierska 2010, Bickel et al.  
2015) speaks in favour of a wide-spread secondary filling of the empty  
slot in the 3rd person, which implies a cross-linguistic trend in the  
opposite direction. Do other trends in inflection also possess a  
counter-part running into the opposite direction? How to identify such  
a trend in a particular case?

-- What are the factors responsible for trends in the development and  
evolution of inflection? What are the possible patterns of interaction  
between these factors?

It seems established that trends in the development and evolution of  
inflection partly imply a well-defined target- or goal-construction  
and partly seem to depend on the cross-linguistically common sources  
of the structure in question. Thus, the Watkins’s law transformations  
of inflectional patterns in verbs seem to imply a target in form of a  
pattern with a 3rd person equalling the bare stem (cf. Koch 1995). By  
contrast, the trends toward particular forms of differential case or  
number marking in nouns seem to depend on the original semantics of  
the diachronic sources established for the relevant markers (cf.  
Cristofaro 2013, 2014). The data indicate, therefore, that both  
goal-oriented and source-determined trends in the evolution of  
inflection have to be assumed for natural languages.
The question which remains to be answered is as to what may be the  
possible determinants of goal-oriented changes or what may define the  
goal? An obvious factor is areal pressure, i.e. a goal-oriented change  
may target a structure present in a neighbouring language (cf. Janse  
2009 for Watkins’s law transformation in Cappadocian Greek). A second  
possible factor might be the structural pressure from within the  
system in question itself (cf. Maiden 2004, Hill 2015 on suppletion).  
The third possible factor may be constituted by synchronic cognitive  
or functional preferences which define structures more suitable for  
processing information (cf. the natural morphology tradition such as  
in Dressler et al. 1987, van Loon 2005, in a similar vein recently  
Plank 2016 and, with general discussion, Haspelmath 2017, 2018).
It is important to identify evidence helpful for establishing which  
factors may be at work in the case of each particular diachronic trend  
and what are the possible patterns of interaction between these  
factors. This amounts to the following questions. Which kind of  
evidence may be instrumental in distinguishing between goal-oriented  
and source-determined developments? Which evidence may help to  
identify the synchronic cognitive or functional preferences and to  
distinguish them from recurrent patterns of change due to structural  
pressure from within or without the system?

The workshop welcomes papers dealing with the above stated questions  
from both the theoretical and the empirical perspective. Case studies  
on particular trends are as welcome as papers offering new  


Bickel, Balthasar, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich, Taras Zakharko & Giorgio  
Iemmolo. 2015. Exploring diachronic universals of agreement: Alignment  
patterns and zero marking across person categories. In: Fleischer,  
Jürg, Elisabeth Rieken & Paul Widmer (eds.). Agreement from a  
Diachronic Perspective. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton. 29–51.
Bybee, Joan. 1988. The diachronic dimension in explanation. In:  
Hawkins, John A. (ed.). Explaining Language Universals. Oxford:  
Blackwell. 350–379.
Cristofaro, Sonia. 2013. The referential hierarchy: reviewing the  
evidence in diachronic perspective. In: Bakker Dik & Martin Haspelmath  
(eds.). Language across Boundaries. Studies in memory of Anna  
Siewierska. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton. 69–93.
Cristofaro, Sonia. 2014. Competing motivation models and diachrony.  
What evidence for what motivations? In: MacWhinney, Brian, Andrej  
Malchukov & Edith Moravcsik (eds.). Competing Motivations in Grammar  
and Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dressler, Wolfgang U. et al. 1987. Leitmotifs in Natural Morphology.  
Amsterdam: Benjamins.
García-Castillero, Carlos. 2013. Morphological externalisation and the  
Old Irish verbal particle ro. Transactions of the Philological Society  
111. 108–140.
Grossman, Eitan. 2016. From rarum to rarissimum. An unexpected zero  
person marker. Linguistic Typology 20. 1–23.
Harris, Alice C. & Jan T. Faarlund. 2006. Trapped morphology. Journal  
of Linguistics 120. 289–315.
Haspelmath, Martin. 1993. The diachronic externalization of  
inflection. Linguistics 31. 279–309.
Haspelmath, Martin. 2017. Explaining alienability contrasts in  
adpossessive constructions. Predictability vs. iconicity. Zeitschrift  
für Sprachwissenschaft 36. 193–231.
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Hill, Eugen. 2015. Suppletion replication in grammaticalisation and  
its triggering factors. Language Dynamics and Change 5. 52–91.
Jacques, Guillaume & Anton Antonov. 2015. The directionality of  
analogical change in direct/inverse systems. <hal-01386721>
Janse, Mark. 2009. Watkins’s Law and the development of agglutinative  
inflections in Asia Minor Greek. Journal of Greek Linguistics 9.93–109.
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Maiden, Martin. 2004. When lexemes become allomorphs—On the genesis of  
suppletion. Folia Linguistica 38. 227–256.
Majer, Marek. 2015. Russian kotóryj, Czech který, Slovene katri:  
vowel variation in the reflexes of Proto-Slavic *koterъ(jь) ‘which (of  
the two)’. Scando-Slavica 61. 154–179.
Miller, D. Gary. 2010. Language Change and Linguistic Theory I.  
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van Loon, Jozef. 2005. Principles of Historical Morphology.  
Heidelberg: Winter.>>

Prof. Dr. Eugen Hill

Historisch-Vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft
Institut für Linguistik
Universität zu Köln
D-50923 Köln

Tel: +(49) 221 470 - 2282
Fax: +(49) 221 470 - 5947

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