Project description

The Leipzig Valency Classes Project (funded by the DFG) is carrying out a large-scale cross-linguistic comparison of valency classes. With respect to their valency properties, verbs fall into different classes in all languages. The project is inspired by Levin (1993), a classical study of syntactic classes of verbs in English, which argues that a semantic classification of verbs can be achieved through applying syntactic diagnostics. Yet, this study, as well as an earlier study by Apresjan (1967) on Russian, has not been followed up cross-linguistically, which leaves open the question of which aspects of these classifications are universal and which are language-particular. Similarly, valency dictionaries are few in number and mostly deal with European languages, thus they cannot fill the gap.

To make progress in the cross-linguistic study of valency classes, the members of the Valency Classes Project (Andrej Malchukov, Bernard Comrie, Iren Hartmann, Martin Haspelmath, Bradley Taylor & Søren Wichmann) have assembled a group of contributors, who are collaborating on providing a consistent set of cross-linguistic data. The main outcome of the project will be the edited volume (edited by Bernard Comrie & Andrej Malchukov) and the typological database (edited by Iren Hartmann, Martin Haspelmath, & Bradley Taylor) dealing with valency classes across languages. The edited volume, Valency Classes: A comparative handbook, will contain 30-odd chapters by an international team of language experts addressing the topic of valency classes in individual, genealogically and structurally diverse languages, as well as general chapters written by the project members. Similarly, the database will be filled in by the volume contributors for the languages of their expertise, but its format is more open, as it can include more languages than can be accommodated in the Handbook (the database contributions will be published as separately citable parts of an electronic database).

Both the volume contributions and the database contributions are based on a database questionnaire for a selected sample of 70 verbs. These verbs are conceived of as representative of the verbal lexicon and have been reported in the literature to show distinctive syntactic behaviour both within and across languages. Apart from valency frames (or more precisely, coding frames, as manifested by flagging/case-marking and/or indexing/ agreement), the contributors will provide information about major argument alternations, both uncoded alternations (such as the Dative alternation in English) and verb-coded alternations (e.g., passive). Languages vary greatly with respect to the availability of alternation types and the distribution of these types over different verbs. Of greatest interest for the present project are alternations which contribute the most to verb classification in the sense that they are neither restricted to few verbs, nor apply across the board.

The volume contributors are requested to provide a summary of verb class-taxonomies of individual languages, and are encouraged to try to unravel the principles behind the verb classification. The database, which is not subject to the same space limitations as the edited volume, optionally allows contributors to go beyond the 70-verb list in providing information about regularity of certain patterns across the lexicon.  More generally, the project aims to uncover the variability of valency-based verb classification across languages and to examine to what extent this variability depends on (or can be derived from) variation in grammatical constructions (coding types; alternations types) attested in individual languages.