Perspectives on Word Order Evolution: Reconstruction, Typology, and Processing

2-day workshop, 8 and 9 November 2018
Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Zurich


Call for Papers

Abstracts are invited for a 2-day workshop “Perspectives on Word Order Evolution: Reconstruction, Typology, and Processing” hosted by the Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Zurich, on 8 and 9 November 2018. One of the prime questions of the language sciences is to explain the driving factors behind linguistic diversity, and one of the most prominent and apparent ways in which languages differ is in how they order the words in a sentence. Given these observations, we seek to exploit synergies between researchers who work on word/element order from different angles to advance our understanding of the factors that lead speakers of languages to adopt various constituent orders and to retain such orders or evolve away from them.

The workshop is organised in close collaboration with researchers reconstructing word order for languages in South-East Asia and beyond, and with researchers exploring the use of statistical models and language databases for understanding the pressures that influence the realization of word order cross-linguistically. We aim to further develop our current theory of word order evolution and change, integrating insights from psycholinguistic processing, typological tendencies, and historical reconstruction of syntax, along with the use of cutting-edge tools for investigating linguistic questions related to such research. This event is intended as a working meeting to explore possibilities, where participants present ideas and work in progress on word order development and change under these three broad headings (Processing, Typology, Reconstruction), and research conducted in multiple languages and diverse language families. Confirmed speakers include Julia Uddén (University of Stockholm), Ted Gibson (MIT), Elisabeth Norcliffe (SOAS), Balthasar Bickel (University of Zurich), Paul Widmer (University of Zurich), Paul Sidwell (ANU), and Mathias Jenny (University of Zurich).

Some questions of interest are: Are there processing tendencies in the human brain that constrain the way changes in word order can occur? Can we identify particular processing constraints on word order across populations and languages? What do existing patterns of word order in languages of the world tell us about potential constraints on how word order can develop? Do the statistical tendencies in word order found across languages reveal general patterns of human cognition? How can we reconstruct the original word order of Proto-languages for families with few or no historical sources? Can reconstruction of word order for families with many historical sources inform the reconstruction of syntax for those without such sources?

Interested participants should submit a half-page abstract (maximum, excluding references) of their proposed topic to [ hiram D0T ring ʔæʔ uzh D0T ch ] by 15 October.