[Lingtyp] Workshop on referential expressions and information structure, U Manchester, 27-28 June

Eva Schultze-Berndt Eva.Schultze-Berndt at manchester.ac.uk
Fri Jun 1 10:49:28 UTC 2018

(Apologies for cross-posting.)

Dear Typologists,

You may be interested in an informal workshop on Information structure, referential status and referent type in discourse and grammar, to take place on Wed 27 & Thu 28 June 2018, University of Manchester, UK. The deadline for abstracts / registration (via email to me) is 10 June 2018.

Best wishes

Eva Schultze-Berndt

Workshop description
A number of strands in the functionalist-typological tradition of syntactic research view grammar as emergent, i.e. as resulting from discourse preferences – “grammars code best what speakers do most” (Du Bois 1985: 363). In other words, “hard constraints” are assumed to reflect “soft constraints” (Bresnan et al. 2001). The area we are interested in for this workshop is discourse preferences and grammatical constraints governing associations between referent type (i.e. position on the so-called animacy hierarchy), referential status (e.g. given/accessible/new), grammatical role (e.g. S, A, O), the presence of marking for this grammatical role, and information structure role in a clause (e.g. topic or focus).

Classic examples of such preferences include:
• Constraints on referent types in certain syntactic roles (a preference for referents higher on the animacy hierarchy to take the subject role), as relevant for inverse and voice systems (e.g. Bresnan et al. 2001)
• Preferred roles for introducing discourse-new referents (S or O) vs. discourse-given referents (A) (e.g. Du Bois 1987, 2003, Schnell et al. 2018)
• Preferred initial syntactic position for A/S roles (e.g. Greenberg 1966, Bickel et al. 2015)
• Differential argument marking as reflecting the “expectedness” of certain referent types in certain grammatical roles (e.g. speech act participants are typically agents and can therefore be left unmarked in the agent role) (Silverstein 1976, Aissen 2003, and much recent work)

One question that arises in this respect is whether discourse preferences can be assumed to be universal. As recent research within the emergent field of “corpus-based typology has shown (Everett 2009, Haig & Schnell 2016), the universality of discourse preferences should not be assumed, but rather established on the basis of comparative corpus inves¬tigations research – an undertaking that in turn requires a method of anno-tation that ensures comparability of results. Such research may reveal that claims about discourse preferences such as Preferred Argument Structure do not hold for all languages (or at least, for all types of corpora for a given language), or that the correlations involve other factors from those originally claimed. For example, Haig & Schnell (2016) argue that the “Avoid Lexical/New A” may be an epiphenomenon of a much broader tendency to cast human referents with nonlexical forms because of their status as discourse topics.

Preferences involving information structure have been invoked only more recently in such correlations between grammar and discourse phenomena. For example, the topical status of objects or focal status of transitive subjects has turned to be relevant for differential/fluid case marking systems in some languages (e.g. McGregor 2010, Fauconnier & Verstraete 2014, Schultze-Berndt & Meakins 2017 for “optional” ergative marking). Another interesting case is presented by all-new (thetic) utterances, including existentials, which are often found to have arguments with mixed subject/object properties (Fuchs 1980, Sasse 1987, Lambrecht 2000, Bentley 2013). Testing such preferences is fraught with difficulties relating to the low intercoder reliability of anno-tations of information structure (e.g. Cook & Bildhauer 2011) which are in turn due to theoretical debates about the definition and subclassification of information structure categories such as topic and focus (e.g. the status of contrast in establishing subcategories), the importance of prosody in identifying these categories for many languages, and a frequent confusion of topical and focal status with givenness and newness in discourse (cf. Krifka and Musan 2012), not to mention a more fundamental controversy about the universal vs. language-specific nature of information structure categories (e.g. Matić & Wedgwood 2013). For example, while an association of agenthood and topical status is repeatedly claimed in the literature (e.g. Du Bois 1985: 356), it has rarely been tested on cross-linguistic data, and it is not even always clear whether the notion of sentence topic or discourse topic is invoked here.

This informal workshop aims to showcase empirical phenomena from a range of languages that point towards an influence of information structure, referential status, and referent type on the encoding of referents and their grammatical roles.
Topics include, but are not limited to:
• The influence of information structure and animacy on differential argument marking
• Preferred grammatical roles and specific syntactic constructions for introducing new referents
• The influence of information structure on subject properties and the subject vs. predication partition

We particularly welcome contributions that test the distribution of these categories in discourse data and/or that address associated theoretical and methodological questions. The latter could include, for example:
• Definitions of information structure categories that are suitable for annotation of discourse data
• Experiences with and results from employing the existing GRAID annotation scheme (http://bamling-research.de/multicast/): how well does it capture the discourse preferences that are plausible factors in the coding of grammatical roles?
• Experiences with and results from employing other discourse-focussed annotation schemes capturing information structure
• Effects of text genres on discourse preferences

In a special session, the workshop organisers – Stefan Schnell and Ruth Singer (University of Melbourne) and Delia Bentley and Eva Schultze-Berndt (University of Manchester) – will introduce an annotation scheme which combines annotations of information structure with the GRAID system designed to capture grammatical relations, expression type and referent type/animacy (Haig & Schnell 2014); the latter has been successfully tested on a set of typologically diverse languages and has been instrumental in challenging some frequently repeated assumptions (see above).

Abstracts for a 20min or 35min presentation (both with 10min discussion time), as well as expressions of interest for attending without a paper, should be sent to Eva Schultze-Berndt (eva.schultze-berndt at manchester.ac.uk) by 10 June 2018. If you can only attend on one of the days, please indicate the date. Also please indicate any dietary restrictions. We may have to ask for a fee to cover lunch and refreshments.

Aissen, Judith (2003). Differential Object Marking: Iconicity vs. Economy. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 21(3): 435-483.
Bentley, Delia (2013). Subject canonicality and definiteness effects in Romance there-sentences. Language 89.4: 675-712.
Bickel, Balthasar, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich, Kamal K. Choudhary, Matthias Schlesewsky, and Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky (2015). The Neurophysiology of Language Processing Shapes the Evolution of Grammar: Evidence from Case Marking. PlosONE, 10(8).
Bresnan, Joan, Shipra Dingare, and Christopher D. Manning (2001). Soft constraints mirror hard constraints: Voice and person in English and Lummi. Proceedings of the LFG01 Conference.
Cook, Philippa, and Felix Bildhauer (2011). Annotating Information Structure. The case of topic. In S. Dipper and H. Zinsmeister (eds.), Beyond Semantics. Corpus-based Investigations of Pragmatic and Discourse Phenomena. Bochum: Bochumer Linguistische Arbeitsberichte 3: 45-56.
Du Bois, John W. (1985). Competing motivations. In John Haiman (ed.) Iconicity in syntax, 343-365. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Du Bois, John W. (1987). The discourse basis of ergativity. Language, 63(4): 805-855.
Du Bois, John W. (2003). Argument structure: Grammar in use. In J. W. Du Bois, L. E. Kumpf, and W. J. Ashby (eds.), Preferred Argument Structure: Grammar as Architecture for Function, 11–60. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Everett, Caleb. 2009. A reconsideration of the motivations for preferred argument structure. Studies in Language 33(1): 1-24.
Fauconnier, Stefanie, and Jean-Christophe Verstraete (2014). A and O as each other's mirror image? Problems with markedness reversal. Linguistic Typology, 18(1): 3–49.
Fuchs, Anna (1980). Accented subjects in 'all-new' utterances. In: G. Brettschneider and C. Lehmann (eds.). Wege zur Universalienforschung: Sprachwissenschaftliche Beiträge zum 60. Geburtstag von Hansjakob Seiler. Tübingen, Narr: 449–461.
Greenberg, Joseph H. (1966 [1963]). Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements. In J. H. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of language: report of a conference held at Dobbs Ferry, New York, April 1961, 73-113. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Haig, Geoffrey, and Stefan Schnell, 2016. The discourse basis of ergativity revisited. Language (92): 591-618.
Haig, Geoffrey, and Stefan Schnell (2014). Annotations using GRAID. Manual v. 7.
Krifka, Manfred, and Renate Musan (2012). 'nformation Structure: Overview and linguistic issues. In M. Krifka and R. Musan (eds.), The Expression of Information Structure, 1-44. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lambrecht, Knud (2000). When subjects behave like objects: an analysis of the merging of S and O in sentence-focus constructions across languages. Studies in Language, 24(3): 611-682.
Matić, Dejan, and Daniel Wedgwood (2013). The meanings of focus: The significance of an interpretation-based category in cross-linguistic analysis. Journal of Linguistics, 49: 127–163.
McGregor, William B. (2010). Optional ergative case marking systems in a typological-semiotic perspective. Lingua, 120(7): 1610-1636.
Sasse, Hans-Jürgen (1987). The thetic/categorical distinction revisited. Linguistics 25: 511-580.
Schnell, Stefan, Nils Schiborr & Geoffrey Haig (2018). Is intransitive subject the preferred role for introducing new referents? Evidence from corpus-based typology. Paper to be presented at the SLE 2018 conference, Tallinn.
Schultze-Berndt, Eva, and Felicity Meakins (2017). Bringing agents into focus: Competing motivations in differential agent marking. Paper presented at the Association for Linguistic Typology conference, Canberra, December 2017.
Silverstein, Michael (1976). Hierarchy of Features and Ergativity. In R. M. W. Dixon (ed.), Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages. Canberra: AIAS, 112-171.

Eva Schultze-Berndt
Professor of Linguistics
Linguistics and English Language
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
M13 9PL
Manchester, UK
E-mail: eva.schultze-berndt at manchester.ac.uk
Office NG11, Samuel Alexander Building
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