“Why is language typology possible?”
“Disentangling genes, geography, and language”
Tom Güldemann (MPI EVA & University of Zurich)
“African macro-areas and geography”
Mauro Tosco (University of Naples ‘L'Orientale’)
“Finding one's way: on the grammar of space of a language of Southwest Ethiopia”
Jochen Trommer (University of Leipzig)
Jaklin Kornfilt (Syracuse University & MPI EVA)
“Some cross-linguistic and historical observations on Turkic (and other Altaic) relative clauses”
“Explaining Diversity in Geminate Consonant Inventories: An Evolutionary Approach”
“Associational Semantics and the Typology of Isolating Languages”
Understanding Typological Distributions
Typological distributions – i.e. distribution of structural features among the languages of the world – typically reveal non-accidental skewings. In the past century the dominant theoretical tools in explaining such skewings were preference or optimization laws on the nature of synchronic grammars. Recent research has shown that typological distributions can be better understood as (a) the result of diachronic development and (b) as systematically affected by anthropological factors such as population history, social structure and cultural traditions. This course first reviews the notion of a typological distribution from a statistical point of view, examining the kind of evidence that is required for claiming universal or areal skewings. We will then focus on case studies that reveal, in a first part, the historical nature of distributions, and in a second part, the ways in which such distributions are affected by anthropological factors.
Course materials: » download (pdf):   
Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky (MPI CBS)
& Matthias Schlesewsky (University of Marburg)
This course provides an introduction into the new research field of ‘neurotypology’, which aims to shed light on cross-linguistic unity and diversity from a neurophysiological and neuroanatomical perspective.
Thus, neuroscientific methods such as event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are used to ascertain the neurocognitive processing signatures of different languages. These can then be compared and contrasted in order to determine which aspects of the processing architecture should be considered universal and which are better described as language-specific. Main topics of the course include: an introduction to the relevant experimental methods and to the research framework adopted here as well as a detailed discussion of available data on typologically different languages.
Quantitative approaches to lexical comparison
The comparison of lexical material between languages is one of the central pillars of historical-comparative reconstruction, and thus of our knowledge about the genealogical relations between languages. In practice, this kind of research consists to a large extent of manually searching through dictionaries and wordlists, paired with a great amount of knowledge about the languages in question. This laborious kind of research seems predestined to be assisted by modern computational power, though this is not (yet) what has happened. In this course, we will discuss previous art, what seems feasible in the short run, and what is still missing for quantitative approaches to really take off.
First, we will go through the somewhat hidden (because mostly not published in the linguistic mainstream) history of quantitative approaches to lexical comparison. Then, we will discuss approaches from computer science and bio-informatics that seem to be relevant to lexical comparison, although they have not been devised with an application in linguistics in mind. A central point of reflection will thus be to what extent these methods are relevant, and to what extend they have to be changed for application in linguistics. Finally, the question will be raised what linguists will have to do for lexical data to be better applicable for automatic analysis.
Although this course is about mathematical approaches to language comparison, the main goal will be to make linguists without a profound mathematical background familiar with the concepts and basic principles. I do not expect the participants to immerse themselves into the algorithmic details, though some basic technical abstraction will be necessary.
Converging Evidence: Linguistic Typology and Corpus Linguistics
In recent years, the rigid theoretical divide between language competence and performance has met with considerable criticism, culminating in the ‘Performance-Grammar-Correspondence-Hypothesis’ (e.g. Hawkins 2004). On this view, the grammatical conventions of a language are recast as ‘frozen’ preferences and patterns in language use, and a systematic correspondence is drawn between performance data and cross-linguistic constraints on grammatical variation. In this course, we will outline the theoretical foundations of this usage-based approach to grammatical variation, and demonstrate how performance data drawn from electronic corpora and texts can be related to typological generalisations of grammatical structure. Among the phenomena to be looked at will be various types of complex sentence constructions as well as selected issues pertaining to transitivity (argument structure, voice, tense-aspect).
Course materials: Diessel: » download (pdf):    | Schmidtke: » website
Morphology and Word-Formation in Pidgins and Creoles
The saying that creoles have little or no morphology has become almost like a mantra in creolistics. The problem with this perspective is that it tells us more about what pidgins and creoles supposedly lack, and very little about what they actually have. This course introduces students to the major issues in the debate on morphology in pidgins and creoles. The discussion will be based on a global survey of pidgins and creoles with a view to discovering what use they make of morphological and word-formation processes such as inflectional and derivational affixation, compounding, and reduplication.
While the main philosophy of the course is founded on the principle of dealing with pidgins and creoles on their own terms (as opposed to contrastively), some mention will be made of whether particular patterns are continuities from the chief lexifier language (i.e. superstrate) of a contact language, or if they represent imposition from the substrate language(s).
How Different Can Languages Be?
This question has been answered in a variety of ways, ranging from the assertion (associated with generative grammar) that "All languages are essentially the same" to the claim (made by some structuralists and typologists) that "Languages are incommeasurable", or that "There are no limits on the ways in which languages may differ from one another". How can we make sense of these radically opposing viewpoints?
This course provides a critical evaluation of the various answers that have been proposed for this question. It then suggests that the most appropriate answer is in fact an intermediate one, namely: Languages differ from each other more than most linguists think that they do, but still, cross-linguistic variation is constrained by linguistic universals.
The first half of the course will examine two case studies of particular languages that have been argued to differ from Standard Average European in unexpected and profound ways: Riau Indonesian, as in Gil (1994, 2000, 2005, 2006) and Pirahã, as in Everett (2005, 2006, 2007, to appear) and also Colapinto (2007). The descriptions and analyses proposed for these two languages suggest that the degree to which languages may differ from each other has been substantially underestimated not only by generativists but also by many functionalists and typologists.
The second half of the course will take a look at the recent debate between Haspelmath (2007) and Newmeyer (2007) over the question whether there exist linguistic universals of a formal nature. Contrary to the former, we shall argue that formal universal categories do exist, but contrary to the latter, we shall suggest that they are quite different in nature from those commonly assumed. Interestingly, both scholars seem to share the presupposition that semantic universal categories are more readily indentifiable than formal universal ones. In contrast, we shall argue that there is little or no evidence, at present, in support of such semantic universal categories.
Colapinto, John (2007): The Interpreter. Has a Remote Amazonian Tribe Upended Our Understanding of Language?. The New Yorker, April 16 2007.
Everett, Daniel L. (2005): Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language. Current Anthropology 46:621–646.
Everett, Daniel L. (2006): Discussion on Cultural Constraints in Pirahã Grammar. Current Anthropology 47:143–145.
Everett, Daniel L. (2007): Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Lessons on Life, Language and Thought from the Amazon. Pantheon Books.
Everett, Daniel L. (to appear): Interview with Dan Everett, in G. Sampson, D. Gil and P. Trudgill, eds.: Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gil, David (1994): The Structure of Riau Indonesian. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 17:179-200.
Gil, David (2000): Syntactic Categories, Cross-Linguistic Variation and Universal Grammar. In P. M. Vogel and B. Comrie, eds.: Approaches to the Typology of Word Classes, Empirical Approaches to Language Typology. Berlin/New York: Mouton. 173-216.
Gil, David (2005): Word Order Without Syntactic Categories: How Riau Indonesian Does It. In A. Carnie, H. Harley and S.A. Dooley, eds.: Verb First: On the Syntax of Verb-Initial Languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 243–263.
Gil, David (2006): Intonation and Thematic Roles in Riau Indonesian. In C.M. Lee, M. Gordon, and D. Büring, eds.: Topic and Focus. Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on Meaning and Intonation. Dordrecht: Springer. (= Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy 82). 41–68.
Haspelmath, Martin (2007): Pre-established Categories Don't Exist: Consequences for Language Description and Typology. Linguistic Typology 11:119–132.
Newmeyer, Frederick J. (2007): Linguistic Typology Requires Crosslinguistic Formal Categories. Linguistic Typology 11:133–157.
Corinna Handschuh (MPI EVA)
& Alena Witzlack-Makarevich (University of Leipzig)
Grammatical Relations Typology Beyond Standard Alignment
In typological studies, languages are usually classified as belonging to one of the macrotypes of Nominative-Accusative or Ergative-Absolutive languages. The classification is often exclusively based on the overt marking of the arguments of intransitive and monotransitive clauses (S,A,O systems). The assumption underlying this type of classification is that there is only one alignment per language.
In this course we will show that languages do not conform to this assumption. First, they exhibit several alignments, which are conditioned by factors such as tense-aspect-mood properties of the clause, referential characteristics of the argument and semantics of the predicate. Second, depending on the constructions one considers (different types of predication, control, raising, switch-reference, diathesis etc.) the alignment may differ. Thus, typologists studying alignment systems must adopt a more detailed approach in order to discover new insights.
Syntactic Universals and Usage Frequency
In this course we will look at several syntactic domains and see how frequency asymmetries can shape syntactic structures, providing us with a powerful explanatory tool. We will briefly discuss different ways of doing theoretical syntax, and move soon to the practical question of how to test predictions made by a frequency-based functional approach to syntax. The participants will do small corpus studies on a language of their choice, and we will discuss potential problems and possible solutions. The phenomena that we will look at will come from diverse areas of syntax: verbal argument marking, valency-changing morphology, adnominal possessive marking, and coreference marking.
Course materials: » download (pdf):    
Jaklin Kornfilt (Syracuse University & MPI EVA)
Topics in Turkic Syntax
Most of the Turkic languages are rather similar syntactically in many respects. This course will discuss the common properties of Turkic as well as some interesting differences: The morphosyntax of relative clauses (e.g. whether the target of the relative clause determines the predicate morphology of the modifier clause or not), to what extent embedded clauses are nominalized, whether tense/aspect/mood distinctions expressed morphologically in tensed clauses are neutralized in nominalized clauses, whether subject–predicate agreement is expressed morphologically, and when it is, the differences in the position of the agreement morphology; further, we shall ask whether any of these morpho-syntactic properties can be causally linked. Finally, the course will look at some contact phenomena, such as Turkic languages with preferred basic SVO (rather than SOV) and head-initial (rather than head-final) order, fully tensed embedded clauses introduced by a complementizer, and languages that display wh-movement rather than in-situ wh-elements.
Course materials: » download (pdf):      
Language Acquisition in crosslinguistic perspective
Human languages come in a great many varieties and children are able to learn any of the approximately 7000 languages still spoken today. Even though language acquisition research still focuses on English and the major languages spoken in Europe, a lot of progress has been made in the last decades in learning about crosslinguistic variation in acquisition. The goal of this course is twofold. First, we give an overview of the major questions and methods used in this interdisciplinary field. The interplay of methods used in psychology and linguistics, both experiments and corpus research, will be the in the center of attention. Second, we focus on advances in crosslinguistic studies (which are concerned with particular languages) and typological (comparative) studies (both within and across related groups of languages). Since children learn the language spoken in their social environment, we will especially address the issue of child directed speech from a crosscultural and comparative perspective.
Course materials: Lieven: » download (pdf):   | Stoll: 
» reference list
Doris Löhr (University of Leipzig)
Language Contact in African Languages
The course will discuss various methods and current theories of language contact, applied to the African “scene”. Some of the areas with extreme high linguistic density will be examined in more detail, e.g. the Lake Chad region (Nigeria/Niger), a linguistic landscape where speakers of three of the four established African language phyla (cf. Greenberg 1963) live. We will address questions such as: How do we assess the phenomenon of language contact and the input of language change on linguistic structures (e.g. grammaticalization, the rise of a “Sprachbund”, or of “language islands”)? What are the internal and external factors of language change? How are we able to make statements about diachronic linguistic developments? Which role do extra-linguistic reasons (e.g. migration) play in language contact scenarios? We will also focus on another consequence of language contact: endangered African languages.
Competing Motivations and the Typology of Case-Marking
The course deals with cross-linguistic variation of case marking which is explained in terms of competing functional motivations. The topics addressed include:
- differential case marking (as described by Bossong, Aissen and others);
- transitivity alternations and encoding of ‘transitivity parameters’, identified by Hopper & Thompson and Tsunoda;
- transitivity splits, that is, different extensions of the transitive frame across different verb classes;
- rise of common and rare case patterns.
It will be shown how few functional principles (“constraints”) can predict the preferred case frames across languages. Methodologically, it will be argued that the competing motivations approach, as practiced in functional typology, is compatible with (functional) optimality-theoretic approaches.
Course materials: » download (pdf):      
Creole Languages in a World-Wide Perspective
This course will be centered around the ongoing collaborative project of the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures (APiCS).
It has been claimed at various times and by various authors that pidgin and creole languages form a synchronically coherent set of languages. But strangely enough, these claims have not been based on a sound database of comparable linguistic data. APiCS is a first attempt to bring together the expertise of ca. 70 contact language specialists from around the world. Each of these experts answers a questionnaire of 120 features regarding the structure of pidgin/creole languages. Through this first attempt at large-scale expert-based typology, we will be able to assemble a large-scale database of systematic creole data.
In the first part of the course I will give an overview of what creole languages are, where they are spoken, and how they came about. We will then look at specific creoles, analyze their grammars, and we will have a first look at the structural database of APiCS. We will concentrate on specific construction types, e.g. ditransitive constructions, possessive constructions, experiencer constructions. These excercises will help us recognize the great structural diversity of these languages. In the subsequent sessions, we will check APiCS against WALS (the World Atlas of Language Structures). Half of the APiCS features have been taken over from WALS, so that we will be able to match creole languages against the languages of the world.
This course is also open for beginners in creole studies.
Inflectional Morphology in a Minimalist Grammar
This course is concerned with the role of inflectional morphology in a minimalist grammar. Two basic questions will be addressed: First, to what extent can marker homonymies in inflectional paradigms in the world’s languages be derived systematically? And second, what should a theory of inflectional morphology look like that is compatible with basic tenets of the minimalist program (Chomsky (1995, 2005))? As for the first question, a guiding assumption underlying much recent work in theoretical morphology is that identity of form implies identity of function (within a certain domain, and unless there is evidence to the contrary), i.e., that instances of syncretism are systematic in the unmarked case. In addition, evidence has been brought forward in support of an iconicity restriction on inflection markers. We will go through a number of empirical case studies (from typologically different languages) to test these assumptions. As for the second question, we will take a closer look at three influential theories of inflectional morphology that have recently been developed (viz., Distributed Morphology, Paradigm Function Morphology, and Minimalist Morphology). It turns out that these three approaches (i) are quite similar in many respects once superficial differences are ignored; (ii) can successfully derive instances of syncretism (by invoking feature decomposition and underspecification); and (iii) are all incompatible with basic assumptions of the minimalist program. In view of this, I will outline an approach to inflectional morphology that meets minimalist requirements by combining certain features of the three approaches just mentioned (like underspecification, specificity-based competition, and decomposition of features for grammatical categories — case, person, number, gender, inflectional class) in a pre-syntactic model.
The course assumes some familiarity with basic concepts of morphological and syntactic theory, but no detailed knowledge of either the minimalist program or the morphological theories that will be addressed.
Course materials: » download (pdf)
Chomsky, Noam (1995): The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Chomsky, Noam (2005): On Phases. Ms., MIT, Cambridge, Mass.
Halle, Morris & Alec Marantz (1993): Distributed Morphology and the Pieces of Inflection. In K. Hale & S. J. Keyser, eds.: The View from Building 20. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 111–176.
Stump, Gregory (2001): Inflectional Morphology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wunderlich, Dieter (1997): A Minimalist Model of Inflectional Morphology. In C. Wilder, H.-M. Gaertner & M. Bierwisch, eds.: The Role of Economy Principles in Linguistic Theory. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. 267–298.
Traditionally, phonological typology has been concerned with the cross-linguistic study of segmental inventories, syllable complexity, tonal contrasts and stress placement. Recent activity in prosodic typology additionally provides hypotheses about i) the clustering of prosodic, phonotactic and morphophonological properties in holistic language types and ii) the varying salience of prosodic domains such as the Prosodic Word or the Phonological Phrase across the languages of the world.
After recapitulating basic notions of phonological description and theorizing, this course will first discuss traditional approaches to phonological typology using the WALS data. We will then review and critically re-examine clusters of prosodic features which have been hypothesized to constitute the phonological basis for linguistic rhythm (stress- vs. syllable- vs. mora-based). Finally, the Prosodic Hierarchy as developed within Prosodic Phonology will be investigated on the basis of the cross-linguistic data collected in the Leipzig Word project.
Course materials: » website
Advance Reading Suggestions:
Bickel, Balthasar, Kristine A. Hildebrandt & René Schiering (2007): The distribution of phonological word domains: A probabilistic typology. Ms., University of Leipzig & University of Manchester. [PDF]
Schiering, René (2007): The phonological basis of linguistic rhythm. Cross-linguistic data and diachronic interpretation. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung 60:337–359. [PDF]
Typological Features and the Areal Dimension
in the Languages of the Southern Caucasus, Northern Iran-Iraq and Eastern Turkey
This course will introduce my recent, on-going work on a new atlas of linguistic features of the languages of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Northern Iran, Northern Iraq, and eastern Turkey. The area involves heavy contact phenomena yielding a multitude of shared isoglosses among five different language families, including two genera of Indo-European: KARTVELIAN (Georgian and dialects; Laz-Mingrelian); INDO-EUROPEAN I, Armenian (widely variant dialects with low interintelligibility); ALTAIC (Azerbaijani dialects of Azerbaijan and Iran; Iraqi Turkmen; eastern Turkish dialects); SEMITIC (Neo-Aramaic, with a wide range of highly divergent dialects of different Christian and Jewish communities of Kurdistan; Arabic dialects of Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan); INDO-EUROPEAN II, Iranian (Northwestern Iranian: North/Central/Southern Tati, North/Central/Southern Talyshi; N. Kurdish/Kurmanji, Central Kurdish/Sorani-Mukri (Iraq-Iran); Zazaki (E. Turkey); Gurani/Hawrami (Iran-Iraq border area); Southwestern Iranian: Caucasian Tat of Muslim and Jewish communities in N. Azerbaijan/Daghestan; colloquial Tehran Persian); NORTHEAST CAUCASIAN: Udi (Daghestanian outlier with unclear position within the Lezgian group).
I will begin with a survey of the six different languages families/genera mentioned above, as well as the history, distribution and composition of the language communities. As part of this survey, brief sound files of languages and dialects of various families from the Atlas will be played in the classroom. In introducing a sampling of phonological, grammatical, and lexical isoglosses shared by these languages, I will present a survey of the common linguistic features of the area including issues of isoglossing, isogloss overlap phenomena, substrate influences, language typology, shared cultural phenomena.
Søren Wichmann (MPI EVA & Leiden University)
Quantitative Approaches to Language Change
During this course we will look at language development and change in a global and statistical perspective, seeking out answers to perennial questions such as: what are the rates of change for different kinds of typological features and for different kinds of lexical items? What is the relationship between borrowing and stability? Do lexical items diffuse more easily than typological features? What can we say in comparison about the diffusion of cultural features? Do small languages change faster than small ones? Can typological features help us to establish remote genealogical relationships among languages? About half of the course will be devoted to the introduction of the ‘Automated Similarity Judgment Program’, a project for doing lexicostatistics where a computer identifies cognates according to matching rules specified by the linguist. We will look at some results of comparing around 2000 languages simultaneously. Finally, an interactive computer program allowing students to analyze their own datasets will be presented.
Course materials: » download (ppt):   
Thomas Wier (University of Chicago & MPI EVA)
Feature hierarchies in natural languages
In recent years, the terms both ‘feature’ and ‘hierarchy’ have become
of increasing interests to linguists of all stripes because of the
ways in which both phenomena — categoriality and asymmetry — seem
simultaneously necessary to any grammatical discussion and yet also
difficult to pin down. In this course, we will look at how the two
notions interact in different ways in different languages along both
formal modular lines (does the asymmetry result from sensitivities to
distinct syntactic, semantic or morphological specifications?) and
functional distributions (the role that constructional frequency plays
in the grammaticalization of feature asymmetries). We will also
spend some time looking at:
- what kinds of constructions are likely to manifest a feature
(e.g. head-agreement vs. case-marking);
- in which language families and/or areas do feature hierarchies
play a significant/interesting role (e.g. Algonquian, Athabaskan,
Kiowa-Tanoan, Sahaptian, Salishan, Mayan, Tibeto-Burman, Kartvelian,
- what distinguishes a pure feature hierarchy (e.g. 1st person >
2nd person > 3rd person), if anything, from constructional hierarchies
or scales (e.g. Corbett's agreement hierarchy)?
By the end of the seminar, we hope to have acquired a better understanding
of what features hierarchies are and where they come from.
Some advanced reading suggestions:
Silverstein, Michael (1976): Hierarchy of Features and Ergativity. In R.M.W. Dixon, ed.:
Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 112–171.
Klaiman, M. H. (1992): Inverse languages. Lingua 88.3/4:227–261.
Zuñiga, Fernando (2002): Inverse systems in indigenous languages of the
Americas. Ch. 1: Alignment and Direction. PhD Diss.
The impact of language contact on typology
This course explores the ways in which language contact may influence the typological properties of the languages involved. Such influence can be manifold and vary in its degree and nature. Prominent examples are e.g. metatypy (i.e., the large-scale change of syntactic and semantic patterns on the model of another language) or the genesis of a sprachbund (i.e., the increase in grammatic similarity among neighboring languages). Apart from these, we will also look at grammatical and lexical borrowing and the effect of areality on typological similarity or diversity.
Another topic of this course will be the existence of typologically rare features and their endangerment by language contact and globalization.
Issues in the Historical Phonology of Chadic Languages (Afroasiatic)
There are about 140 languages in the Chadic family spoken in the Wider Lake Chad Basin in Central Africa which makes this the largest language family within Afroasiatic. Even though languages like Hausa, Wandala (Mandara) and Kotoko have been accessible to linguistic scholarship for about 150 years, lexical, phonological, and grammatical reconstruction is still in its infancy. In synchronic analysis, Chadic languages spoken today may have up to 10 or more phonetic vowels. However, a bundle of problems relate to the historical reconstruction of the Proto-Chadic vowel inventory/system, intelligent assumptions range between one (*/a/), two (*/a/, *//) and four vowels (*/a/, *//, /*i/, /u/), less likely are three vowels (*/a/,*/i/,*/u/), quite unlikely five or more vowels, with uncertain status of vowel length. A wealth of unsolved problems have so far disallowed full lexical reconstructions (based on the classic comparative method) of Proto-Chadic lexemes beyond the listing of merely consonantal roots.
In order to economize the synchronic descriptions of certain Chadic languages as much as to explain the historical processes involved, an alternative theoretical and methodological approach has been suggested which is based on the notion of “prosody”. This approach views labialization and palatalization, most of all (and possibly other processes, such as prenasalization, voicing, glottalization), as “long components” accessible to autosegmental analysis that affect vowels as much as root consonants and thus account for harmonization phenomena across the word as a “prosodic unit”.
The course will introduce selected data from Chadic languages and discuss competing synchronic descriptions of these data. It will introduce the “prosodic approach” in terms of a diachronic model that is able to explain why and how proto-systems with only one or two phonemic vowels have developed into synchronic systems with 5 to 10 vowels (or could even be said to have maintained the inherited “one-” or “two-vowel-system” until this day albeit on a highly abstract level of phonological representation).
Course materials: » download (pdf)