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Conference Information

Full Title: Linguistic Coding Asymmetries, Usage Frequency and Informativeness

Location: Saarbrücken, Germany
Start Date: 08-Mar-2017 - 10-Mar-2017
Contact: Martin Haspelmath
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting URL:
Meeting Description: Since Roman Jakobson’s classical papers on morphological markedness and on the zero sign, asymmetric morphosyntactic patterns have been a core issue of grammar research. Across languages we find recurrent asymmetric pairs such as nominative/accusative, third/second person, singular/plural, present/future, affirmative/negative, locative/ablative, positive/comparative, adjective/abstract noun, verb/agent noun, noncausative/causative, whose great systematicity is in need of explanation.

Apart from the old markedness concept, there are two further well-known explanatory approaches: On the one hand, the idea of iconicity of complexity (known through John Haiman’s work, cf. Downing & Stiebels 2012), which motivates the greater formal complexity of semantically more complex forms; on the other hand, the proposal that the asymmetries of coding should be explained by usage frequency and informativeness: More frequent forms (nominative, third person, singular, etc.) are more predictable (less informative), and an efficient communication system tends toward shorter or non-overt marking of these forms, as was already noted by G.K. Zipf in the 1920s (Haspelmath 2008). This idea has more recently also been taken up by psycholinguistics and corpus linguistics (e.g. Jaeger 2010).

However this is resolved, we still have no answer to the question how the motivating factors are turned into linguistic conventions. Zipf’s old idea that speakers shorten the most frequent forms does not seem to be general enough, and the precise diachronic mechanisms are still too little known.

Ideally, this workshop would bring together grammarians, typologists, corpus linguists, psycholinguists and diachronic linguists to exchange research results and address these issues jointly.

Invited speaker:

Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon (University of Klagenfurt)

Martin Haspelmath (MPI-SHH Jena & Leipzig U)

Abstract reading committee:
Holger Diessel (University of Jena)
Sander Lestrade (RU Nijmegen)
Damaris Nübling (University of Mainz)
Elke Ronneberger-Sibold (KU Eichstätt)
Freek Van de Velde (KU Leuven)
Linguistic Subfield: General Linguistics; Morphology; Syntax; Typology
LL Issue: 27.2704

This is a session of the following meeting:
39th Annual Meeting of the DGfS (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft)

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