Project: Neat Theories, Messy Realities
|Organize your mess neatly! Foto: Julia Kuznetsova|
Traditional definitions of language phenomena make precise distinctions using absolute criteria. But when we look at language data, we see that the real use of language is not so black-and-white, since most language phenomena are scalar rather than absolute. So how should we reconcile this disparity between absolute definitions and scalar data?
Allomorphy is presumed to be widespread in all known languages. As traditionally defined, allomorphy involves a single meaning that is expressed by two or more different forms distributed in complementary distribution. A typical example of allomorphy is the plural marker in English, which has three allomorphs: [-s] as in cats, [-z] as in dogs, and [-әz] as in foxes, where [-s], [-z] , and [-әz] mean ‘plural’. But how do we know when meaning is identical? And what should we do about the fact that strictly speaking, complementary distribution is exceedingly rare? For example, English also has a zero morpheme for the plural that can appear in the same three environments as the above-mentioned allomorphs, as we see in sheep, deer, and fish.
This project undertakes a thorough examination of one of the most fundamental concepts of linguistics, namely allomorphy, examining in detail a range of case studies that fit and deviate from the traditional definition to varying degrees. We propose new standards for applying linguistic definitions, and also yield more precise descriptions of languages that can be implemented in language teaching.
“Neat Theories, Messy Realities” has produced two volumes of research results, published as special issues of top-level international journals in 2013.
Aspect in Slavic: Creating Time, Creating Grammar is a special issue of the Journal of Slavic Linguistics guest edited by Laura A. Janda. This volume contains the following contributions:
- “Creating the contours of grammar”, an introductory article by Laura A. Janda.
- “On The Origin of the Slavic Aspects: Aorist and Imperfect”, by Henning Andersen
- “How Telicity Creates Time”, by Östen Dahl.
- “See, Now They Vanish: Third-Person Perfect Auxiliaries in Old and Middle Czech”, by Stephen M. Dickey.
- “The History of the Russian Semelfactive: The Development of a Radial Category”, by Tore Nesset.
- “Verbal Prefixation and Metaphor: How Does Metaphor Interact with Constructions?”, by Svetlana Sokolova.
Time and Space in Russian Temporal Expressions is a special issue of Russian Linguistics guest edited by Laura A. Janda, Stephen M. Dickey, and Tore Nesset. This volume contains the following contributions:
- “Time and space in parallel streams: In place of an introduction”, by Laura A. Janda.
- “Making choices in Russian: Pros and cons of statistical methods for rival forms”, by R. Harald Baayen, Laura A. Janda, Tore Nesset, Anna Endresen, and Anastasia Makarova. Data and code for the statistical analysis in this article are publicly available here: http://ansatte.uit.no/laura.janda/RF/RF.html
- “How ‘here’ and ‘now’ in Russian and English establish joint attention in TV news broadcasts”, by Tore Nesset, Anna Endresen, Laura A. Janda, Anastasia Makarova, Francis Steen, and Mark Turner. Data and code for the statistical analysis in this article are publicly available here: http://ansatte.uit.no/laura.janda/RLdata/RLdata.html
- “Time as secondary to space: Russian под ‘under’ and из-под ‘from-under’ in temporal constructions”, by Julia Kuznetsova, Vladimir Plungian, and Ekaterina Rakhilina.
- “Space-time asymmetries: Russian в ‘in(to)’ and the North Slavic Temporal Adverbial Continuum”, by Anastasia Makarova and Tore Nesset. Data and code for the statistical analysis in this article are publicly available here: http://ansatte.uit.no/laura.janda/RLdata/RLdata.html
- “TIME and SPEED: Where Do Speed Adjectives Come From?”, by Vladimir Plungian and Ekaterina Rakhilina.
Funding: The Neat Theories, Messy Realities project is supported by a grant from the Norwegian Research Council.