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Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure -

2012 - Categories of Information Structure across Languages

This workshop aims to bring together descriptive and theoretical linguists who are investigating categories in Information Structure. It will address the question of the universality of information structure categories of topic, focus, and contrast.

Conference Summary


The debate on the (non-)universality of linguistic categories has become highly topical in the past decade, but despite the intensity of the discussion, no consensus seems to be in sight. The positions come in two basic flavours, universalist and particularistic, with many shadings in between the extremes (Houser et al. 2002, Everett 2005, Nevins et al. 2009, Evans & Levinson 2009, Haspelmath 2010, to name just a few). The categories of information structure (topic, focus, contrast, and similar) could be of special interest in the ongoing debate. From the communicative point of view, the function of IS to manage the common ground between interlocutors. There is no reason to doubt that communicators, irrespective of the language they use or the culture they use it in, need to regulate and control the way the information is transferred in conversation. Information structure as a communicative phenomenon thus stands a good chance of being universal. 

This is where it becomes interesting. Is this potentially universal feature of human communication necessarily reflected in the grammar of all languages? If this is the case, is it reflected though identical, merely similar, or completely different categories? Are there linguistic systems in which no IS-based grammatical categories are attested, and how do speakers of such languages control the information flow? On the methodological side, how do we establish the identity of two IS categories from different languages and what criteria can be used to establish differences? If there is variation, is it parametric or arbitrary? 

These kinds of questions have been asked surprisingly rarely in the rich literature on IS, although both universalist and particularistic views have been expressed recently (Zimmermann & Onea 2011, Matić & Wedgwood, to appear). In order to fill in this gap and contribute to the universality debate from a new viewpoint, we would like to elicit contributions of all theoretical persuasions on the above questions and other related issues.

Where and when:
Nov 9-10, 2012
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Important deadlines:
Registration is free, but please register via the form on the left before November 1st, 2012.
Dejan Matic
Robert Van Valin
Saskia van Putten
Jeremy Hammond
Dejan Matic,

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