[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] CfP Workshop "Beyond Information Structure" - SLE 2017

Pavel Ozerov pavel.ozerov1 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 8 10:59:41 UTC 2016

---apologies for cross-posting---

*Call for papers: *Workshop “*Beyond Information Structure*”

Contact Persons: Dejan Matić (University of Graz) dejan.matic at uni-graz.at;
Pavel Ozerov (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) pavel.ozerov1 at gmail.com

The workshop “Beyond Information Structure” is planned for the 50th Annual
Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE) (Zürich, 10-13 September
2017). We invite submissions of preliminary abstracts (max. 300 words
excluding references) for 20 minute presentations. Due to the approaching
deadline of workshop proposals, please send your abstracts to the
organisers by the November 21, 2016. In the case the workshop is accepted,
you will be invited to submit the full abstract (max. 500 words excluding
references) by January 15, 2017.

*Workshop description: *

In the last years, growing cross-linguistic evidence suggests a shift in
the functional approach to Information Structure (IS), along the same
theoretical lines that recently re-shaped a number of domains of linguistic
inquiry. Examples of such shifts took place in the study of “word classes”
(Haspelmath 2012) and grammatical relations (Bickel 2011). Modern
approaches dispense with the postulation of universal categories and the
exploration of their cross-linguistic expression. Instead, they replace
this method with detailed studies of language-specific phenomena and their
ensuing classification and comparison. In the case of IS the typological
outcome of such a shift results in the radical departure from the assumed
universal or prototypical categories.

Traditionally, theoretical approaches to IS define a set of
pragmatic-semantic categories, and study how these categories are expressed
cross-linguistically (e.g. Rooth 1992, Lambrecht 1994). The need in these
categories was in turn rooted in basic principles of communication and
information-processing, such as e.g. the need in a cognitive index to store
a proposition (‘topic’ in Vallduvi’s (1992) approach), or the importance of
update (a central feature of ‘focus’ in Lambrecht 1994).

However, a growing number of empirical, language-specific studies
attempting to analyse presumable IS-marking devices instead discover their
different, diverse primitive functions, which have no direct relationship
to IS categories. In addition to giving a better account of the basic
function, usage, and distribution of these devices, this research also
sheds light on the actual origin of “information structural” phenomena.
They show how diverse primitive functions can interact with the context,
rendering sets of interpretations related to such concepts as “aboutness”,
“contrast”, “unexpectedness”, etc., that are typically used to characterise
IS notions.

Matić and Wedgwood (2013) provide extensive argumentation for this shift,
and demonstrate a number of case studies of such re-analysis of presumable
IS markers. For instance, the Quechua particle mi had previously been
analysed as a marker of narrow focus (Muysken 1995, Sanchez 2010). However,
although this characterisation is applicable within the limited set of IS
tests, it fails to address the full span of functions of the particle. Its
analysis along the lines of evidentiality (Faller 2002:150) or as an
“interactional device [of] persuasive intention” (Behrens 2012:209) allows
both to give a unified account for its functions, and trace the
interactional source of a presumable “focal” effect, which arises in
certain contexts. In another case, the apparent contrastivity of Even
suffix –d(A)mAr turns out to stem from its lexical meaning, which indicates
that the denoted noun is included in a set of relevant concepts. As such,
it can occur with contrastive referents, but also e.g. with kinship terms
(which represent sets like {father, child}) (Matić and Wedgwood 2013:152).
And yet another case, stand-alone nominalised sentences in Burmese,
previously argued to be “cleft-sentences” (Simpson 2008, Hole and
Zimmermann 2013), are used to communicate speaker’s emotions, narrator’s
personal comments, visualise storyteller’s memories and – more broadly –
impart emotional involvement from the side of the speaker (Ozerov 2015). As
such, they are also used in the context of contradiction, correction, or an
opinionated selection from a set of alternatives – typical instances of
focus elicitation.

In fact, after decades of cross-linguistic studies of IS, hardly any
example of a purely IS device has been identified. Even the very
prototypical case of an IS construction – cleft-sentences in English –upon
closer examination turns out to represent a rather different phenomenon. It
is only the studies of its interactional discourse functions that were able
to give a coherent account of its distribution (‘state-making device’ Delin
and Oberlander 1995, ‘inquiry terminating construction’ Velleman et al.
2012), which also explains its typical focal interpretation.

Thus, it is repeatedly found that IS accounts of presumable IS devices are
insufficient. IS analysis alone does not explain the full function of
apparently relevant markers. Moreover, it does not predict the
idiosyncratic list of precise IS features, pertinent to each particular
marker. Coherent full-scale analyses show that primitive functions of these
markers lie beyond IS, while IS-interpretations often turn out to be
particular usages of their primitive functions.

If so, a coherent cross-linguistic study of relevant language-specific
categories promises to shed light on the way IS-interpretations appear as a
result of the interaction of a basic function of diverse devices with the
context. It will describe and explain how interactional categories, stance,
intersubjective alignment, particular discourse structuring and lexical
devices produce dynamic structuring of information in the course of
communication. Moreover, this research perspective strongly appeals to the
identification, description and analysis of currently poorly understood
categories from the field of interaction.

Only once these categories are properly described and compared, will we be
able to produce generalisations regarding their natures. As a result of
this process, we may end up with a modified version of typological
categories that would resemble IS-primitives. However, it is not impossible
that the outcome will be radically different. For instance, an apparent
typology of “verum focus” (He did go!) demonstrates that in this context
Albanian uses admirative verbal forms, while Quechua employs the
abovementioned evidential-persuasive particle mi (Behrens 2012:231);
Burmese creates the required effect by stance marking (Ozerov
2015:261-293). Hence, what starts out as a typological study of a
“focus”-construction, ends up representing a typology of interactional,
persuasive-contradictive techniques.

We invite abstracts of empirical and theoretical studies that deal with the
abovementioned topics, such as:

·       Studies of particular language-specific IS-like devices that
investigate their overall function and discuss the nature and origin of
their IS-functions

·       Theoretical and empirical studies that investigate the relation
between IS and fields of interaction, cognition, discourse-structure

·       Comparative studies of IS-related devices with detailed accounts of
their precise functional similarities and differences

·       Theoretical studies that critically discuss the proposed framework
and its relation to currently established theories of IS

·       Theoretical studies of broader IS-like phenomena (“emphasis”,
“attention”, “aboutness”) in discourse and their marking

·       Empirical studies of particular strategies, functions and marking
employed in discourse in the contexts of “IS-tests”, e.g. answers to
content questions, corrections, frame-setting etc.


Behrens, Leila. 2012. ‘Evidentiality, Modality, Focus and Other Puzzles:  Some
Reflections on Metadiscourse and Typology.’ In *Practical Theories and
Empirical Practice: A Linguistic Perspective*, edited by Andrea C.
Schalley, 185–244. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Bickel, Balthasar. 2011. Grammatical relations typology. In Jae Jung Song
(ed.), *The Oxford handbook of language typology*, 399–444. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Delin, Judy, and John Oberlander. 1995. ‘Syntactic Constraints on Discourse
Structure: The Case of It-Clefts.’ *Linguistics* 33 (3): 465–500

Haspelmath, Martin. 2012. How to compare major word-classes across the
world’s languages. Theories of Everything, *UCLA Working Papers in
Linguistics*, Volume 17. 109-130

Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. *Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic,
Focus, and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents*. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

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 (1): 127–163

Muysken, Pieter. 1995. Focus in Quechua. In Katalin E. Kiss (ed.), *Discourse
configurational languages*, 375–393. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ozerov, Pavel. 2015. The system of Information Packaging in Burmese. PhD
Thesis, La Trobe University, Bundoora (Melbourne)

Rooth, Mats. 1992. ‘A Theory of Focus Interpretation.’ *Natural Language
Semantics* 1 (1): 75–116

Sanchez, Liliana. 2010. *The morphology and syntax of topic and focus:
Minimalist inquiries in the Quechua periphery*. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Simpson, Andrew. 2008. ‘The Grammaticalization of Clausal Nominalizers in
Burmese.’ In *Rethinking Grammaticalization: New Perspectives*, edited by
María José López-Couso and Elena Seoane, 265–288. Typological Studies in
Linguistics 76. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Vallduví, Enric. 1992. *The Informational Component*. New York: Garland

Velleman, Dan B., David Beaver, Emilie Destruel, Dylan Bumford, Edgar Onea,
and Liz Coppock. 2012. ‘It-Clefts Are IT (Inquiry Terminating)
Constructions.’ In *Proceedings of SALT 22*, edited by Anca Chereches,
441–460. University of Chicago
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