UiB : HF : LLE

Indo-European Case and Argument Structure in a Typological Perspective


Workshop: Reconstructing Syntax

ICHL-20 in Osaka, Japan, 24–30 July 2011
Workshop title: Reconstructing Syntax
Organizer: Jóhanna Barðdal, University of Bergen & Spike Gildea, University of Oregon

Call for papers: Historical-comparative reconstruction has traditionally been focused on lexical, morphological and phonological comparisons, while syntactic reconstruction has either been systematically left unattended, regarded as fruitless or uninteresting, or even rebuked (cf. Watkins 1964, Jeffers 1976, Lightfoot 1979, 2006, Harrison 2003, Pires & Thomason 2008, Mengden 2008, inter alia). The reason for this is that syntactic structures have been regarded as fundamentally different from, for instance, morphological structures, in several respects. That is, syntactic structures are larger and more complex units than morphological units. Semantically they have not been regarded on par with morphological units either, in that their meaning is regarded as the sum of the meaning of the lexical parts that instantiate them, and because of this semantic compositionality they have not been regarded as being arbitrary form-meaning correspondences like words. It has also been argued in the literature that syntactic structures are not inherited in the same way as the vocabulary (Lightfoot 1979 and later work), that there is no cognate material to compare when comparing sentences across daughter languages (Jeffers 1976), that there is no regularity of syntactic change, as opposed to the regularity of phonological change (Lightfoot 2002, Pirus & Thomason 2008), and that there is no arbitrariness found in syntax (Harrison 2003), all of which render syntactic reconstruction fundamentally different from phonological reconstruction.

Recent work within historical-comparative syntax takes issue with this view of syntactic reconstruction (Kikusawa 2003, Harris 2008, Bauern 2008, Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010), arguing that the concepts of "cognate status,""arbitrariness" and "regularity" are non-problematic for syntactic reconstruction. This is so, first, because cognates are also found in syntax (Kikusawa 2003, Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010). Second, because the arbitrariness requirement is simply not needed in syntax, as it's role is first and foremost to aid in deciding on genetic relatedness, which is usually not an issue when doing syntactic reconstruction (Harrison 2003, Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010). And, third, because a) the sound laws are only regular by definition (Hoenigswald 1987), and b) the sound laws are basically stand-ins for a similarity metric when deciding upon cognate status (Harrison 2003).

It has also recently been claimed (cf. Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010) that Construction Grammar is more easily extendible to syntactic reconstruction than other frameworks, due to the basic status of form–meaning/function pairings in that framework. This creates a natural leap from synchronic form–meaning pairings to historical reconstruction, based on form–meaning pairings.

This ICHL workshop aims at accommodating contributions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The fundamental issues of reconstruction in general and syntactic reconstruction in particular
  • Individual case studies of syntactic reconstruction from different languages and language families
  • A comparison of how different theoretical frameworks may contribute to syntactic reconstruction

Please send your abstracts of 500 words or less to Jóhanna Barðdal (Johanna.Barddal@uib.no), no later than November 15th 2010, preferably in pdf-format. A response on abstracts will be sent out on December 15th 2010.


  • Barðdal, Jóhanna. 2010. Construction-Based Historical-Comparative Reconstruction. To appear in Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar . Eds. Graeme Trousdale & Thomas Hoffmann. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Barðdal, Jóhanna & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2010. Reconstructing Syntax: Construction Grammar and the Comparative Method. To appear in Sign-Based Construction Grammar. Eds. Hans C. Boas & Ivan A. Sag. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
  • Bowern, Claire. 2008. Syntactic Change and Syntactic Reconstruction in Generative Grammar. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction . Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 187-216. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Ferraresi, Gisella & Maria Goldbach (eds.). 2008. Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction . Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Harris, Alice C. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax: Reconstruction of Patterns. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction . Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 73-95. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Harrison, S. P. 2003. On the Limits of the Comparative Method. In The Handbook of Historical Linguistics , eds. B. D. Joseph & R. D. Janda, 343-368. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Hoenigswald, H. M. 1987. The Annus Mirabilis 1876 and Posterity. Transactions of the Philological Society 76(1): 17-35.
  • Jeffers, Robert J. 1976. Syntactic Change and Syntactic Reconstruction. In Current Progress in Historical Linguistics: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Historical Linguistics , ed. William M. Christie, Jr., 1-15, Amsterdam.
  • Kikusawa, Ritsuko. 2003. The Development of Some Indonesian Pronominal Systems. Historical Linguistics 2001: Selected Papers from the 15th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Melbourne, 13-17 August 2001 , eds. Barry J. Blake, Kate Burridge & Jo Taylor, 237-268. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Lightfoot, David. 1979. Principles of Diachronic Syntax . Cambridge: Cambridge Univer sity Press.
  • Lightfoot, David W. 2002. Myths and the Prehistory of Grammars. Journal of Linguistics 38(1): 113-136.
  • Mengden, Ferdinand von. 2008. Reconstructing Complex Structures: A Typological Perspective. In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction . Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 97-119. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Lightfoot, David. 2006. How New Languages Emerge . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pires, Acrisio & Sarah G. Thomason. 2008. How Much Syntactic Reconstruction is Possible? In Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction . Eds. Gisela Ferraresi & Maria Goldbach, 27-72. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Watkins, Calvert. 1964. Preliminaries to the reconstruction of Indo-European sentence structure. In Proceedings of the IX International Congress of Linguists , ed. H.G. Lunt, 1035-1045. The Hague: Mouton.









Jóhanna Barðdal, Principal Investigator
Dept. of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, UiB
Box 7805
NO-5020 Bergen
Phone +47-55 58 24 38
Fax +47-55 58 96 60
johanna.barddal at uib.no

    Updated October 12, 2010 by JB