Neat Mess

neat_mess_orange.jpg (Bredde: 180px)
Organize your mess neatly! Foto: Julia Kuznetsova

Theoretical Questions

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.

Practical Outcomes

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.

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:
  • “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:
  • “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:
  • “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.