Howell, Hohaus et al. in “Linguistic Variation”

Posted on May 4, 2021 by

Prolific as ever Vera Hohaus has just published another paper! Howell, Hohaus, Berezovskaya, Sachs, Braun, Durmaz and Beck is out now in Linguistic Variation reporting on “(No) variation in the grammar of alternatives”. If you’re wondering why there are so many authors on this paper, it’s because there are a lot of languages in the study, and that’s how we know about that thing about grammar of alternatives. Which is what exactly? Here’s Vera’s informal explanation:

“The paper explores the range of variation that we might expect to find across languages when it comes to the way that the grammar treats the alternatives that intuitively feature in the interpretation of a question or of a focused constituent. When it comes to the languages in our fieldwork sample, however, we interestingly do not find such variation. We conclude that there might be an interesting, potentially stable asymmetry across languages in how different types of alternatives are evaluated.”

The official abstract is below, for the more semantically informed readers of Manchet. The full paper can be accessed here.

“The paper reports the results of an in-depth crosslinguistic study of intervention effects and the grammar of alternatives in a typologically diverse sample of five languages: Palestinian Arabic (Afro-Asiatic, Semitic), Russian (Indo-European, Slavic), Samoan (Austronesian, Oceanic), Turkish (Altaic, Turkic), and Yoruba (Niger-Congo, Defoid). In all of these languages, we find an interesting asymmetry in that focus evaluation interrupts question evaluation and causes an intervention effect, but not vice versa. We take our data to inform the crosslinguistic analysis of two alternative-evaluating operators, the squiggle operator and the question operator. To capture the observed absence of variation, we propose two semantic universals: The squiggle operator unselectively evaluates all alternatives in its scope. The question operator, on the other hand, is selective.”

Featured photo is from Vera’s fieldwork.