Association for Linguistic Typology
10th Biennial Conference (ALT 10)
Logo: MPI Logo: ALT
Logo: Uni Leipzig
ALT 10   –   August 15-18, 2013

ALT Theme sessions

The theme sessions are part of the regular ALT programme, and will take place in parallel with the other ALT talks.

Theme session 1:

Generalized Noun Modifying Clause Constructions

Convenor: Yoshiko Matsumoto

Noun modification by a clause usually includes structures such as those commonly considered as relative clause constructions and nouns with sentential complements. Matsumoto (1997 and elsewhere) has argued that Japanese does not have a syntactically distinct relative clause construction, but rather a more general noun-modifying clause construction, which encompasses a wide varieties of instances including translation equivalents of English relative clauses like (1), sentential complements with noun heads like (2), and still other constructions like (3).

(1) the man [who grilled the fish]
(2) the fact [that the man grilled the fish]
(3) the smell [of the fish being grilled]

Unlike the English equivalents, Japanese has no explicit indication of the grammatical and semantic relation between the head noun and the dependent clause. Therefore, Matsumoto argues further that the interpretation of such examples in Japanese relies only minimally on syntax, and primarily on an aggregate of semantic and pragmatic factors, including the semantics of the predicate and the head noun, as well as shared contextual or cultural knowledge.

Comrie (1996, 1998, and elsewhere) suggests on the basis of mostly prima facie evidence that this pattern found in Japanese might hold for a number of other Asian languages. Based on these and other similar findings, Matsumoto, Comrie, and Sells are leading a collaborative investigation supported by Stanford University, “Noun-Modifying Constructions in Languages of Eurasia: Reshaping theoretical and geographical boundaries,” in order to investigate what we call “Generalized Noun-Modifying Clause Constructions (GNMCCs)”, i.e., a noun phrase consisting of a head noun and a dependent clause with no explicit indication of the constituents. In the examination of grammatical or typological factors that might favor or disfavor the development of GNMCCs, possibilities that show some promise include verb-final constituent order, low referential density, and a prevalence of nominal structures, although further work is necessary.

The theme session will bring together accounts of relative clauses and related constructions from different languages, viewed from the perspective of the GNMCC hypothesis, which will also be elaborated. Particular emphasis will be given to the establishment of GNMCCs in languages other than Japanese, and also to interesting cases (e.g. from an areal perspective) of languages that lack them.


Comrie, Bernard. 1996. The unity of noun modifying clauses in Asian languages. Pan-Asiatic Linguistics: Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Languages and Linguistics, January 8-10, Volume 3. Salaya, Thailand: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University at Salaya. 1077-1088.

Comrie, Bernard. 1998. Attributive clauses in Asian languages: Towards an areal typology. In W. Boeder, C. Schroeder, K. H. Wagner, and W. Wildgen (eds.), Sprache in Raum und Zeit, In memoriam Johannes Bechert, Band 2. Tübingen: Günter Narr. 51-60.

Matsumoto, Yoshiko. 1997. Noun-Modifying Constructions in Japanese: A Frame-Semantic Approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins


Theme session 2:

Typological hierarchies in synchrony and diachrony

Convenors: Sonia Cristofaro, Fernando Zúñiga, Karin Stüber

Typological hierarchies (and typological universals in general) are usually accounted for on synchronicgrounds. If the distribution of some construction, as described by individual hierarchies, can plausibly be associated with particular factors, then these factors are assumed to be responsible for the distribution, independently of how the construction originated in individual languages. For example, several hierarchies (such as the number hierarchy or the referential hierarchy) describe the distribution of zero vs. overt marking in different grammatical domains, such as different number values or different argument types. These patterns have been accounted for by assuming that overt marking is used for meanings that are more in need of disambiguation, possibly because they are less frequent (Comrie 1989, Dixon 1994, Croft 2003, Haspelmath 2006 among others). This explanation is based on the synchronic distribution of overt markers, not the diachronic processes that give rise to these markers in particular languages.

A relatively large body of evidence is, however, now available about the possible diachronic sources of the patterns described by several typological hierarchies, for example alignment patterns, number marking systems, and hierarchical alignment. This evidence raises two major issues for
existing explanations of the hierarchies:

(i) In many languages, the patterns described by individual hierarchies, e.g. particular alignment or number marking patterns, originate from processes not taken into account in existing explanations, such as processes of context-induced reinterpretation of pre existing constructions (Garrett 1990, Mithun 1996 and 1999, Gildea 1998, McGregor 2008, among others). To what extent do these processes provide alternative explanations for the hierarchies?

(ii) The diachronic evidence shows that the patterns described by a hierarchy may originate from different processes. This holds both for different patterns captured by the hierarchy, and for the various instances of individual patterns in different languages. For example, the referential hierarchy describes several distributional patterns for ergative and accusative systems crosslinguistically.
These patterns, as well as the various instances of each pattern in different languages, have been shown to originate from a variety of distinct diachronic processes, including the reinterpretation of the argument structure of different source constructions and the grammaticalization of different source elements into markers for different argument roles (for example, the grammaticalization of instrumentals, indexicals, and cislocatives into A argument markers, and that of topic markers into P argument markers: Garrett 1990, McGregor 2008, Rude 1991, Lord 1993, Mithun 1996, König 2008). Does this mean that typological hierarchies just capture the outputs of several independent diachronic processes, or are individual hierarchies still amenable to a unified explanation in terms of general principles (such as for example the need to disambiguate particular meanings)?

These issues or related ones have occasionally been raised in the literature on typological universals (see, e.g., Bybee 1988, Aristar 1991, Newmeyer 2002, Filimonova 2005, Dryer 2006, Bickel 2008, Creissels 2008), and very similar problems have been addressed in the Evolutionary Phonology model advocated by Blevins (2004, 2008). Until now, however, the explanation of typological hierarchies has generally remained separate from the reconstruction of the processes that give rise to the relevant grammatical patterns in individual languages. The theme session seeks to explore the theoretical implications of these processes both for the explanation of individual hierarchies, and for the theoretical debate on the nature of typological hierarchies in general. To this end, we welcome papers focusing on foundational issues as well as papers providing new diachronic data on individual hierarchies, either from particular languages or from cross-linguistic surveys.


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

Bickel, B. (2008). On the scope of the referential hierarchy in the typology of grammatical relations.In G. G. Corbett and M. Noonan (Eds.), Case and grammatical relations: papers in honor of Bernard Comrie, pp. 191–210. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

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

Blevins, J. (2008). Consonant Epenthesis: Natural and Unnatural Histories. In J. Good (Ed.), Linguistic Universals and Language Change, pp. 79–107. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Comrie, B. (1989). Language universals and linguistic typology. 2nd edition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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

Croft, W. (2003). Typology and universals. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dixon, R. M. W. (1994). Ergativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dryer, M. (2006). Descriptive Theories, Explanatory Theories, and Basic Linguistic Theory. In F. Ameka, A. Dench, and N. Evans (Eds.), Catching Language: The Standing Challenge of Grammar Writing. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Filimonova, E. (2005). The noun phrase hierarchy and relational marking: problems and counterevidence. Linguistic Typology 9, 77–113.

Garrett, A. (1990). The Origin of NP Split Ergativity. Language 66, 261–96.

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

Haspelmath, M. (2006). Against markedness (and what to replace it with). Journal of Linguistics 42, 25–70.

König, C. (2008). Case in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lord, C. (1993). Historical change in serial verb constructions. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

McGregor, W. B. (2008). Indexicals as sources of case markers in Australian languages. In F. Josephson and I. Söhrman (Eds.), Interdependence of diachronic and synchronic analyses, pp. 299–321. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mithun, M. (1996). New directions in referentiality. In B. Fox (Ed.), Studies in Anaphora, pp. 413–35. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mithun, M. (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Rude, N. (1991). On the Origin of the Nez Perce Ergative NP Suffix. International Journal of American Linguistics 57, 24–50.



Theme session 3:

Lexical typology of qualitative concepts

Convenors: Ekaterina Rakhilina & Tatiana Reznikova

This session addresses issues of lexical typology and presents a project on
cross-linguistic description of qualitative concepts. The project undertaken by the Moscow School of Lexical Typology covers about thirty of the most common and highly relevant meanings like ‘old’, ‘sharp’, ‘full’, ‘heavy’, ‘soft’, ‘wet’ (supposed to occur in most human languages) and possible ways of their lexicalization.

Qualitative concepts were among the first lexical domains to attract the attention of typologists [Berlin, Kay 1969]. Methodologically, the early studies were based on experiments using visual stimuli. More recently this approach was applied to taste and smell terms [Senft et al. 2007], but it might not be particularly fruitful when applied to most other qualities, cf. ‘new’, ‘plain’, temperature adjectives [Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Rakhilina 2006, Koptjevskaja-Tamm (ed.) to appear], cf. also verbs describing pain reactions [Britsyn et al. (eds.) 2009, Reznikova et al. 2012].

In our study of qualitative concepts we address some recent findings made within the constructional approach: the main focus is thus on the analysis of lexical combinability and contextual restrictions exemplified by pairs of close synonyms and/or antonyms (cf. new/*young/old apartment, new≠young/old friend).

The data are extracted from text corpora and fieldwork questionnaires and put into a data-base. At the next stage, generalizations about possible lexicalization strategies (in the form of semantic maps) can be arrived at. Thus, an important step is made towards a reconstruction of a (universal?) inventory of parameters determining various lexicalization patterns across


Berlin, Brent & Kay, Paul. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Britsyn, Viktor M., Ekaterina V. Rakhilina, Tatiana I. Reznikova & Galina M. Yavorska. (eds.). 2009. Koncept boli v tipologiceskom osvescenii [The concept of PAIN in a typological perspective]. Kiev: Dmitri Burago’s Publishing House.

Koptjevskaja-Tamm Maria, Rakhilina Ekaterina. 2006. «Some like it hot»: On the semantics of temperature adjectives in Russian and Swedish. In: STUF – Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung, 59(3), 253—269.

Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria (ed.) (to appear). Linguistics of temperature. Benjamins.

Reznikova, T.; Rakhilina, E.; Bonch-Osmolovskaya, A. 2012. Towards a typology of pain predicates // Linguistics. Volume 50, Issue 3, pp. 421–465.

Senft G., Majid A., Levinson S.C. 2007. The language of taste. In: Asifa Majid (ed.), Field Manual Volume 10. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, pp. 42-45.


Theme session 4:

Linked Data in Linguistic Typology

Convenor: Sebastian Nordhoff

Typology lives on data. Typologists produce, curate, extract, aggregate, and analyze data on a daily basis. One major issue is the interoperability of digital data thus gathered. This workshop will deal with the production, publication, and interlinking of typological data according to Semantic Web principles (Linked Open Data).

Several attempts at standardizing typological data have been made, e.g. LDS (Comrie & Smith 1977) and GOLD (Farrar and Langendoen 2003). These top-down approaches have had some success, but a large scale adoption is still wanting. A bottom-up approach as for instance employed by TDS ( and ISO-CAT ( could be more promising as it takes
into account the often strong feelings linguists have about data categories.

Numerous projects around the world gather heterogeneous typological data, but data representation is by and large project-specific and not guided by general principles. This often results in serious problems over time, including issues with regard to persistence, provenance, interoperability, and accessibility.
These problems are well-known in other data-heavy subdisciplines, e.g. lexicography and corpus linguistics. The lemon project (McCrae et al. 2012) tackles these issues for lexicography, OLiA does the same for corpus linguistics (Chiarcos 2012). In this workshop, we want to explore in how far the
solutions developed in the other subdisciplines can be applied to typology, building upon more general concepts of interlinking heterogeneous data sets in the context of Linked Open Data (Berners-Lee 2006, Heath & Bizer 2009).

The working group on Open Data in Linguistics of the Open Knowledge Foundation has recently started working on interlinking data from various subdisciplines (Chiarcos et al. 2012a). The insights and experiences gained there can fruitfully be applied to typology, as the integration of WALS, WOLD,
ASJP, Glottolog, and IDS into the Linguistic Linked Open Data Cloud show (Nordhoff 2012, Hellmann et al. forthcoming). Chiarcos et al. (2012b) show how such data can then be cross-queried across knowledge bases to gain new insights and test hypotheses.

The major advantages of the Linked Open Data approach advocated in Chiarcos et al. (2012a) are the potentials of cross-querying data, and the possibility of a federated approach to data production (crowdsourcing).

The aim of this workshop is to bring together typologists who create or curate large data sets and practitioners of Linked Open Data, to leverage the potential of creating a linked data cloud for linguistic typology. We welcome presentations about novel techniques of publishing data on the web,
about interlinking and cross-querying databases, and about federating data production.


Berners-Lee, Tim. 2006. Design Issues: Linked Data. July 2006.

Chiarcos 2012. Ontologies of Linguistic Annotation: Survey and Perspectives. LREC 2012, Istanbul.

Chiarcos, Christian, Nordhoff, Sebastian & Hellmann, Sebastian (eds.). 2012a. Linked Data in Linguistics: Representing and Connecting Language Data and Language Metadata. Heidelberg: Springer.

Chiarcos, Christian, Hellmann, Sebastian & Nordhoff, Sebastian 2012b. Linking Linguistic Resources: Examples from the Open Linguistics Working Group. In Chiarcos et al. (eds.) 2012a.

Comrie, Bernard & Smith, Norval. 1977. The Lingua Descriptive Studies Questionnaire. Lingua 41. 1-74.

Farrar, Scott & Langendoen, Terry. 2003. A linguistic ontology for the semantic web. GLOT International 7. 200-203.

Heath Tom & Bizer, Chris. 2011. Linked Data - Evolving the Web into a Global Data Space. San Rafael: Morgan & Claypool.

Hellmann, Sebastian, Moran, Steven, Brümmer, Martin, McCrae, John (eds.). Forthcoming. Multilingual Linked Open Data. Special Issue of the Semantic Web Journal.

McCrae, John, Montiel-Ponsoda, Elena & Cimiano, Philipp. 2012. Integrating WordNet and Wiktionary with lemon. In Chiarcos et al. (eds.) 2012a.

Nordhoff, Sebastian 2012. Linked Data for Linguistic Diversity Research: Glottolog/Langdoc and ASJP Online In Chiarcos et al. (eds.) 2012a.


Theme session 5:

Quantitative Linguistic Typology: State-of-the-Art and Beyond

Convenor: Harald Hammarström

There is increasing awareness that the only strict yes/no language universals to be found in the languages of the world are trivial (Evans & Levinson
2009) and that most of the interesting variation comes in the form of tendencies and patterns. While not everything in language can be weighted
and measured, many aspects do lend themselves to a quantitative analysis.
Coupled with the recent explosion of data in digital form (a trend punctuated by the appearance of WALS), the field of Linguistic Typology is now fully equipped – and perhaps required – to address its fundamental questions quantitatively.

The proposed theme session aims to cover quantative approaches to linguistic typology ranging from the use of basic statistical techniques (such as regression analysis, or constructing a stratified typological sample, Cysouw
2005) to full-fledged models for explaining diversity and similarity of the languages of the world:

  • Methods and models for discovering and measuring dependencies between structural features of languages
  • Methods and models for separating the effects of genealogy, areality,
    universal tendencies and randomness in the make-up of languages
  • Methods and models for hypothesis testing in linguistic typology
  • Methods and models for studying the interaction of linguistic and non-
    linguistic features
  • Empirical results of contrasting different (quantitative or non-quantitative)
    approaches to typology

In particular, the proposed theme session aims to offer the typological
community a state-of-the-art snapshot (by the convenors) of what quantitative
methods can (and can not) do, as well as presentations (by external
submissions) advancing the state of knowledge in the field.


Cysouw, Michael (2005). Quantitative methods in typology. In Altmann, G.,
Köhler, R., and Piotrowski, R., editors, Quantitative
Linguistik: ein internationales Handbuch, pages 554–578. Mouton de Gruyter.

Evans, Nick and Levinson, Stephen (2009). The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32(5):429–492.


Theme session 6:

Predicate-centered focus from a cross-linguistic perspective

Convenors: Tom Güldemann & Ines Fiedler

While notions like argument focus, topic, givenness, and contrast have been playing an important role in the previous analysis of information structure, other categories have only been investigated marginally. Recent research has shown, however, that these are equally important for the grammatical organization of a number of typologically diverse languages. Our proposed theme
session arises from a cross-linguistic research project on African languages dedicated to one of these neglected topics, viz. so-called “predicate-centered focus (PCF)” and attempts to broaden the empirical scope, particularly on non-African data.

PCF subsumes several categories that are typically tied semantically and morpho-syntactically to the verb or predicate as the carrier of both illocutionary force and propositional content. The following types of predicate-centered focus can be distinguished: on the one hand focus on the state of affairs
(often called simply verb focus) and on the other hand focus on sentential operators for polarity, aspect, tense, etc., of which truth value focus is possibly the most well-known. A first important issue is to answer whether PCF and its individual subtypes are cross-linguistically valid. Also, do the PCF subtypes differ with respect to their importance in the coding system and their
salience in language use?

Languages differ considerably as to how they encode predicate-centered focus and its different subtypes formally. Apart from the principal question as to what formal strategies are employed to express PCF, two main parameters have to be evaluated in this respect: a) the formal relation of PCF to other focus types and b) the formal relation among the PCF subtypes outlined above. Furthermore, what is the impact on PCF marking if the predicate is morpho-syntactically complex? To investigate these and related issues is another main goal of the theme session.

Another range of topics concerns the functional nature of PCF and its relation to other grammatical categories. Of special interest is the relation between PCF and certain TAM forms as well as negation, which relates to Hyman and Watters’ (1984) hypothesis about inherently focused verb categories. Other questions are from which non-focus categories PCF can develop and into which non-focus categories it can grammaticalize (cf., e.g., Güldemann 2003 for the possible shift from PCF to present progressive).

Papers treating PCF from a typological perspective or dealing with individual languages which are little studied in this domain are both welcome. We also invite papers which discuss the above mentioned issues within a genealogical group of languages or in general from a historical point of view. We are further interested in contributions which elucidate the role of PCF in discourse and approach it on the basis of larger corpora.


Güldemann, Tom. 2003. Present progressive vis-à-vis predication focus in Bantu: a verbal category between semantics and pragmatics. Studies in Language 27,2: 323-360.

Hyman, Larry M. and John R. Watters. 1984. Auxiliary focus. Studies in African Linguistics 15,3: 233-273.