LinguistMix with Börjars and Payne

Posted on December 2, 2013 by

LinguistMix is back this week for the last time before Christmas, and will feature short talks by Kersti Börjars and John Payne. 5-7pm in University Place 5.209 on Thursday 5th Dec. Kersti will be talking about Variation, theories of grammar and corpora, while John will be (In)fixing Swiss German.

Here’s Kersti’s abstract:

The issue of intra- and inter-speaker variation has tended not to play an important role in theories of grammar. Within historical linguistics, on the other hand, it has generally been held that variation is a necessary step in the process of change. It may not be surprising then that an early influential account of the role of variation within theory of grammar (Kroch 1989) came out of work on historical linguistics. There have been more recent analyses of variation from a non-historical perspective within a similar theoretical framework (for instance by Adger & Smith 2005 and Adger 2006). A very different approach to variation can be found in work by for instance Boersma & Hayes (2001), Sharma et al. (2008) and Bresnan & Nikitina (2009). This approach has been applied to historical change by Clark (2004).

Large-scale linguistic corpora have fundamentally changed the way in which we can study variation and therefore they can also help us evaluate approaches to variation. In this talk, I look at noun-phrase internal word order in early Germanic (Old English and Old Norse) and consider how the data can help us evaluate the different theoretical approaches.

And here’s John’s:

Swiss German has played a prominent role in formal language complexity theory because of its cross-serial dependency construction, illustrated in (1):

(1) …mer d’chind em Hans es huus
I the children(ACC) Hans(DAT) the house(ACC)

haend wele laa hälfe aastrüche
have wanted let help paint
‘… I wanted to let the children help Hans to paint the house’

This construction, in which the object noun phrases are linked to their governing verbs by a series of crossing dependencies, is used to show that natural languages lie in principle beyond even the weak generative capacity of context-free grammars (e.g. Shieber 1997, Clark & Yashimoto 2013). But exactly what kind of rule should we add to our context-free grammar to license this construction? I propose a new analysis which uses a rule of syntactic infixing. When viewed from this perspective, Swiss German looks less like an anomaly. Syntactic infixing is a well-motivated account of seemingly unrelated constructions which do not a priori create the same problem as cross-serial dependencies for weak generative capacity.

Join us for wine, nibbles and intellectual stimulation!