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Conference on COMPETING MOTIVATIONS (November 23-25, 2010)


Competing motivations is a topic coming in different guises in linguistics and related disciplines. In language typology, the concept of competing motivations was explicitly introduced by Du Bois (1985), and since then it has made its way into many contributions including typology textbooks (e.g. Croft 1990; 2003). Currently it is a common trend in functional typology to view the evolution of grammar as resulting from different partly converging but also potentially conflicting functional motivations. An approach to typology where competing motivations (“conflicting constraints”) have been accorded the status of a major theoretical concept is Optimality Theory (OT; Prince & Smolensky 1993/2004, Müller 2000). In OT, grammatical patterns are viewed as resulting from constraint interaction, and cross-linguistic variation is attributed to different rankings of constraints. A similar approach has been introduced in psycholinguistics under the name of Competition Model (Bates & MacWhinney 1989), which addressed the question of how different cues are weighted in language comprehension and language acquisition when the cues are in conflict.
        These three strands of research have not been totally independent from the start (e.g. OT was inspired by the work in psycholinguistics and cognitive sciences), and recently there have been further signs of the converging tendencies in these fields. On the one hand, with the rise of functional OT (Bresnan & Aissen 2002) conceptual differences of functional typology and OT (see Haspelmath 1999 for discussion) have been reduced, and some recent work explicitly tries to further integrate OT and functional typology (see, e.g., Malchukov 2005; de Hoop & Malchukov 2008). On the other hand, OT shows further convergence with psycholinguistic research, with the rise of OT semantics and bidirectional OT approaches that are concerned with comprehension optimization (de Hoop & Lamers 2006). John Hawkins’ work (2004 et passim) aiming to explain generalizations found in typological and psycholinguistic work in terms of a few general principles grounded in processing goes in the same direction. It seems that these new developments have overcome some of the problems of the early competing motivation approaches noted in the literature (Newmeyer 1998) and are opening new perspectives in the respective disciplines. It should also be noted that there is an increased awareness of the similarities of competing motivations models as practiced within linguistic disciplines and beyond (e.g., in psychological research).
        The goal of this conference is to bring together researchers from linguistics and other fields that adopt the competing motivation approach in one form or other another, and to promote further integration and cross-fertilization between them. Topics to be addressed include but are not limited to the following:

  • application of the competing motivation approach to individual languages and cross-linguistically;
  • application of competition models in psycholinguistic research (both language comprehension and language production);
  • theoretical questions such as:
    • What motivations are at work in given domains?
    • What evidence is there for the existence and the weighting of the constraints?
    • What factors determine the weightings of the constraints?
    • How are competing motivations manifested synchronically and diachronically? (cf. Haspelmath’s (1999) notion of ‘diachronic adaptation’ and the research program of ‘evolutionary phonology’ advocated by Blevins (2004)).


Submission of abstracts

  1. Length:
    up to one page of text plus up to one page containing possible tables and references
  2. Format:
    The abstract should include the title of the paper and the text of the abstract but not the author’s name or affiliation. The e-mail message to which it is attached should list the title, the author’s name, and the author’s affiliation. Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously.
  3. Deadline:
    The abstracts should reach us by WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31.
    Submitters will be notified by FRIDAY, APRIL 30.