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Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure -

Information Structure and Subordination: South America and Beyond

This workshop aims to bring together descriptive linguistics and typologists who are investigating the interface of grammar and pragmatics.



In the past decades, the key notions of information structure, such as topic, focus, presupposition, assertion, contrast, etc., have become omnipresent in the linguistic literature, and information structure itself one of the central topics in linguistic theory and description (e.g. Jackendoff 1972, Dik 1989, Lambrecht 1994, É. Kiss 1995, Van Valin & LaPolla 1997, Erteschik-Shir 2007).

The information structure research, however, has been marked by two major limitations. First, with the notable exception of African linguistics (e.g. Watters 1979, Hyman & Watters 1984, Saeed 1985, Aboh et al. 2007, Fiedler & Schwarz 2010), most of the descriptive and theoretical work on information structure has focused on familiar European and a couple of well studied non-European languages, and the typological literature on the topic is scarce (e.g. Givón 1983a, É. Kiss 1998, Van Valin 1999, Drubig 2003).

Second, apart from the lively discussions on English clefts and on the presupposedness of certain types of embedded clauses, the phenomena studied under the label of information structure were more often than not restricted to the domain of the simple clause (though see, e.g., Haiman 1978, Steedman 2000, Van Valin 2005, Palmer 2009). Subordination, which has been a central topic for linguistic theory for a long time, has been extensively dealt with in terms of (morpho)syntactic structure, so that there is a good deal of information on cross-linguistic variation of subordinate clauses (see e.g. Lehmann 1988, Van Valin & LaPolla 1997, Noonan 2007). The pragmatic side of subordination in general and its role in information structure in particular, has received much less attention (though see e.g. Givón 1983b, Cristofaro 2003, Longacre 2007), which is all the more surprising in view of the fact that the main functional load of subordinate structures is to stratify information conveyed by the sentence, i.e. to render the information structure transparent.

A similar disproportion is observable in the booming area of the study of South American languages: vast resources of new linguistic data that are being uncovered have - probably due to the polysynthetic character of most South-American languages - strongly leaned towards morphologically based description, with syntax, semantics, and discourse structure lagging behind.

Aims of the Workshop

The purpose of the workshop is therefore to try and fill in these empirical gaps by soliciting contributions on interaction of information structure and subordinate constructions in less studied languages, both in South America and elsewhere, and on typological and theoretical aspects of this interaction.

We use the terms 'subordination' and 'information structure' in a broad sense. Thus, subordination is used to denote any asymmetrical relation between at least two elements that denote states of affairs, or events, within one sentence. Asymmetry is taken to be a multi-factorial phenomenon, potentially involving syntax, morphology, semantics and pragmatics, but not necessarily all of them. In this way, we intend to discuss, apart from 'classic' subordination (embedding), constructions like cosubordinate clauses, nominalized verbs or clauses, participial constructions, adjoined adverbial or relative clauses, etc. In a similar vein, 'information structure' is meant to cover not only the notions of topic and focus, but all grammatically relevant phenomena that have to do with the speaker's assumptions about the interlocutor's state of mind and knowledge, from topic-focus articulation proper to reference tracking, anaphora resolution, ellipsis, etc.

Where and when:
Apr 27-28, 2011
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Jeremy Hammond
Dejan Matic
Pieter Muysken
Rik van Gijn
Saskia van Putten
Robert Van Valin
Jeremy Hammond,

Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn