Variation and universals in language
The implications of typological evidence for formal grammar
An important part of the generative enterprise has been to capture the tension between universals and language variation. On the one hand, it is assumed that grammars of individual languages cannot vary unlimitedly; on the other hand, we need to take into account that languages do differ in many details.
In this sense, then, there is a way in which formal grammatical theory has an overlap in interest with linguistic typology. There are important differences, of course: typologists tend to take ‘languages’ rather than ‘grammars’ as their object of study, and this has important implications for how certain types of evidence are weighed (witness the debate about the Evans & Levinson paper on universals a few years ago).
In this workshop, we want to bring together different ideas about how to deal with typological evidence (in formal grammar). What is the best way to describe language variation in grammatical terms? What is the precise relation between Greenbergian and Chomskyan universals? (Is “none” really the only answer?) How do we deal with individual apparent ‘counterexamples’? What about implicational universals? And what about statistical tendencies? For which of such empirical issues do we hold the grammar responsible and which other kinds of cognitive or other factors might also play a role?
We hope to deepen the discussion of these issues by bringing together formal phonologists, morphologists and syntacticians which have developed sometimes rather different approaches to these issues, as well as typologists, in the hope of generating an engaging discussion on what “language-specific” vs “universal” really means.
This workshop aims at discussing crucial issues, so we would not want to spend all our time in presentations. In order to have as much room for discussion as possible, we have asked the speakers to send a short position statement a month before of the workshop. You can find the statements in the program below.
Program and position Statements
Friday, 9 June
9:45 Welcome address by Nicolino Di Paolo, mayor of Crecchio
10:00 Roberta D’Alessandro (Universiteit Utrecht) &
Marc van Oostendorp (Meertens Instituut Amsterdam)
Introducing the issue: universals and linguistic variation
Session 1 – Linguistic Universals: are there such things?
10:20 David Adger (Queen Mary University, London)
10:40 Martin Haspelmath (Max Planck Institute-SHH Jena / Universität Leipzig)
11:00 Coffee break
11:30 Discussion (Discussant: Marc van Oostendorp)
12:30 Lunch break
Session 2 – Looking for universal laws
14:30 Rita Manzini (Università di Firenze)
14:50 Heather Newell (Université du Québec à Montreal)
15:10 Ángel Gallego (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
15:30 Anna Maria Di Sciullo (Université du Québec à Montreal)
15:50 Coffee Break
16:20 Discussion (Discussant: Marjo van Koppen)
18:00 Aperitivo – Wine Tasting offered by Farnese Vini *
Saturday, 10 June
Session 3 – The learnability issue
9:30 Theresa Biberauer (University of Cambridge / Stellenbosch University)
9:50 Giorgio Magri (CNRS / Université Paris 8)
10:10 Discussion (Discussant: Birgit Alber)
10:50 Coffee break
Session 4 – How to make order in the chaos – methods for variational research
11:20 Andrea Sansò (Università dell'Insubria)
11:40 Birgit Alber (Università di Verona)
12:00 Discussion (Discussant: Jeroen van Craenenbroeck)
14:30 Excursion/sightseeing *
20:00 Social Dinner *
Sunday, 11 June
Session 5 – Grammar vs “the real world”
9:30 Andries Coetzee (University of Michigan)
9:50 Jeroen van Craenenbroeck (KU Leuven) &
Marjo van Koppen (Universiteit Utrecht)
10:10 Tobias Scheer (Université Nice Sophia Antipolis)
10:30 Discussion (Discussant: David Adger)
11:30 Coffee break
12:00 General discussion: what have we learnt?
(Discussants: Roberta D’Alessandro and Marc van Oostendorp)
13:00 Lunch and Farewell*
* The non-academic activities are for speakers only