skip to main content

Workshop 26 april 2006: Typology and Minimalism


The next Syntax Circle talk will be held at the Meertens Institute on:

Wednesday April 26 2006
15:00 – 17:00

Jan Wouter Zwart  (University of Groningen) will talk about Typology and Minimalism.
See the abstract below.
Drinks afterwards.

All invited!

TYPOLOGY AND MINIMALISM – Jan Wouter Zwart (University of Groningen)

This paper addresses the relevance of typological research using relatively large language samples to questions of
central concern within the minimalist program of generative grammar (Chomsky 1995 and later). The inclusion of non-Indoeuropean languages in the study of syntactic variation has been instrumental in several recent minimalist contributions (e.g. Hale & Keyser 2002, Baker 1996, Kayne 1994, Cinque 1999, and others). However, that research differs crucially from what is commonly referred to as 'typological' in that it is not based on a representative sample of the languages of the world. As a result, the research typically focuses on universals (as in the adverb ordering in Cinque's work) including things that are striking by their absence (as in Kayne's work on the antisymmetry of syntax), or on macro-parameters deriving a crude division among the languages of the world (as in Baker's work on polysynthesis). In contrast, sample based typological research typically yields a more shaded picture, with a range of variation often presented as a continuum (Comrie 1978). The more particular question to be addressed here is to what extent such sample based typological research can shed light on questions relevant to the minimalist program. The paper reports on current research using a variety sample of 215 languages, stratified along the conservative partitioning in 97 language families of Gordon (2005), of which 71 are represented in the sample (covering 98.6% of the world's languages). Based on the surface position of verbs and adpositions, languages in the sample are classified as head-initial and head-final.
Based on these data, a detailed study was made of the position of the conjunction in head-initial and head-final languages, of the distribution of lexical and functional prepositions, and of the placement of attributive adjectives. The findings are discussed in the context of a question central to the minimalist program, namely whether the structure building operation Merge operates in a symmetric or asymmetric fashion.