Abstract - Sonia Cristofaro

Course: Typological universals in diachronic perspective

Instructor: Sonia Cristofaro

This course deals with the relationship between typology and the study of language change, with particular focus on the theoretical implications of a number of known processes of change (particularly grammaticalization processes) for the explanation of typological universals. While explanations for individual universals are usually based on the synchronic distributional pattern captured by the universal, progress in grammaticalization studies and historical linguistics in general means we now have relatively detailed evidence about at least some of the possible origins of these patterns. Does this evidence support classical, synchronically based explanations? What does this evidence tell us about the nature of typological universals in general?

Sonia Cristofaro is associate professor of linguistics at the University of Pavia, Italy. Her research interests focus on language typology and historical linguistics.

Prerequisites and expected knowledge: None, except some general knowledge of linguistics. Knowledge of the fundamentals of language typology, historical linguistics and grammaticalization studies is a bonus, but is not required.

Monday November 27th: Typology and language change

We will review the fundamental assumptions made by typologists about the role of diachrony in the shaping of cross-linguistic patterns. Over the past decades, several typologists (e.g. Bybee 1988, 2008, Aristar 1991) have raised the point that explanations of typological universals should be based on the diachronic processes that give rise to particular synchronic patterns, rather than these patterns in themselves. In spite of a substantive body of relevant data collected within grammaticalization studies and cross-linguistically oriented studies of language change in general, however, this line of research has not been pursued systematically, neither in typology nor in historical linguistics.

Tuesday November 28th:  Functional-typological explanations in diachronic perspective

A number of explanatory principles traditionally proposed in typology, such as economy and processing ease, are examined in light of several diachronic process that give rise to the relevant grammatical patterns. Attention is focused on patterns pertaining to number marking, alignment systems, possession, word order, and clause combining. Diachronic evidence challenges current assumptions about these patterns in two major ways (Bybee 1988 and 2006, Aristar 1991, Gildea 1998, Newmeyer 2002, Creissels 2008, Cristofaro 2013, 2014, 2017). First, the various patterns develop through mechanisms other than those traditionally postulated on synchronic grounds. Second, individual patterns patterns are a result of several particularized diachronic processes, not amenable to a unified explanation.

Thursday November 30th: Implicational universals and hierarchies in diachronic perspective

The notions of implicational universal and implicational hierarchy are examined in light of different diachronic processes that give rise to the distributional constraints captured through these notions. These processes suggest that implicational universals and implicational hierarchies might not be a theoretically meaningsul way to describe these constraints.

Friday December 1st:  From synchronically oriented typology to source oriented typology

The general consequences are discussed of taking a diachronic approach to typological universals. A thorough understanding of individual universals requires a source oriented approach based on qualitative and quantitative data about what constructions and developmental processes give rise to particular distributional patterns, rather than data about the resulting patterns in themselves. This view has a parallel in the Evolutionary Phonology model advocated by Blevins (2004), and its consequences for language documentation and description will also be discussed.

Some key references

Aristar, A. R. (1991). On diachronic sources and synchronic patterns: an investigation into the origin of linguistic universals. Language 67, 1–33.

Blevins, J. (2004). Evolutionary phonology: the emergence of sound patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bybee, J. (1988). The diachronic dimension in explanation. In J. A. Hawkins (Ed.), Explaining language universals, pp. 350–79. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Bybee, J. (2006). Language change and universals. In R. Mairal and J. Gil (Eds.), Linguistic Universals, pp. 179–94. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bybee, J. (2008). Formal Universals as Emergent Phenomena: The Origins of Structure Preservation. In J. Good (Ed.), Linguistic Universals and Language Change, pp. 108–21. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Creissels, D. (2008). Direct and indirect explanations of typological regularities: the case of alignment variations. Folia Linguistica 42, 1–38.

Cristofaro, S. (2013). The referential hierarchy: Reviewing the evidence in diachronic perspective. In D. Bakker and M. Haspelmath (Eds.), Languages across Boundaries: Studies in the Memory of Anna Siewierska, pp. 69–93. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Cristofaro, S. (2014). Competing motivations and diachrony: what evidence for what motivations? In B. MacWhinney, A. Malchukov, and E. Moravcsik (Eds.), Competing motivations in grammar and usage, pp. 282–98. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cristofaro, S. (2017). Implicational universals and dependencies between grammatical phenomena. In N. Enfield (Ed.), Dependencies in Language: On the Causal Ontology of Linguistic Systems, pp. 9–24. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Gildea, S. (1998). On reconstructing grammar : Comparative Cariban morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newmeyer, F. J. (2002). Optimality and Functionality: A Critique of Functionally-Based Optimality Theory. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 20, 43–80.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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