International Conference on Explanation and Prediction in Linguistics
Formalist and Functionalist Approaches

Organizing committee

Prof. Dr. Peter Kosta (University of Potsdam)
Dr. Katrin Schlund (University of Heidelberg)
Dr. Teodora Radeva-Bork (University of Potsdam)

The conference was held from the 13th to the 14th of February, 2019, in the Neue Universität building at the University of Heidelberg. Financial support was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The organizers envisage the publication of an anthology based on the conference proceedings.

Links: ↗︎ conference programme — ↗︎ book of abstracts – ↗︎ photos

Scientific insight is obtained through the processes of description, explanation and prediction. Yet grammatical theory has seen a major divide regarding not only the methods of data eliciting and the kinds of data evaluated, but also in view of the interpretation of these data, including the very notion of explanation itself.

Two major currents in grammatical theory illustrate this divide. The formalist accounts, most strongly represented by the generative paradigm, emphasize the cognitive autonomy of language and therefore engage in figuring out the parameters which are effective in this particular cognitive domain. Functionalist accounts, on the other hand, are usage-based, which implies that interpretation of data relates to conditions of language use.

There has been growing effort to bridge the gap between these two approaches recently. The conference seeks to continue this line of work by discussing selected grammatical issues across different frameworks of formalist and functionalist orientation, thereby elucidating the mutually supportive potential of these two major currents of grammatical theory. The emphasis of the conference is on Slavic languages; contributions relating to other languages but pertaining to one of the key issues outlined below are also welcome.

The thematic foci of the conference include:

  1. Clitics and other Word Order Phenomena in Slavic:

    Slavic Languages belong to a large part to languages in which pronominal and auxiliary clitics are strictly ordered in so-called clitic clusters (cf. Zimmerling & Kosta 2013; Kosta & Zimmerling 2013; Kosta 2017). Formalists and Functionalists explain the strict order of such elements with two different laws: the Wackernagel-Effect (pronominal clitics may not appear further into the clause than second position), and the Tobler-Musafia effect (Second Position Clitics may not appear in absolute string-initial position). The thematic block encourages approaches which can better explain and predict the apparently contradictory evidence between Prosody, Morphology and Syntax and which can include the still quite robust evidence of relative free word order in Slavic.

  2. Impersonal Constructions:

    Research into impersonal constructions is not only about constructions lacking a nominative subject, but may include all kinds of so-called quirky, oblique, or non-agreeing subjects. In the focus of especially generative rea­soning has been the question of whether and how subjectless sentences violate Chomsky’s extended projection principle (EPP) (namely that every clause has a subject constituent) (e.g., Lavine 1998; Perlmutter & Moore 2002). Functionalist accounts, on the other hand, are typically engaged in describing the semantic and communicative properties of impersonal constructions (e.g., Smith 1994; Janda & Divjak 2008). Recently, the number of works integrating formal and functional factors into their models seems to be growing (e.g., Fortuin 2011). This thematic block invites specialists seeking to continue this trend.

  3. Language Acquisition:

    This thematic building block focuses on various aspects of the first language acquisition of syntax, morphology, semantics, discourse or on phenomena at the interfaces. It aims to motivate the discussion of the intrinsic properties of the acquisition of individual languages, and consequently urges an analysis of the data in a comparative perspective. Generally, it is interesting to see what empirical evidence the acquisition data may (or may not) provide for current theories accommodated in the formalist or functional framework. L1-data from monolingual, multilingual as well as from typical and atypical acquisition may be presented.

  4. Language Change:

    Language change is one of the areas in which the clash between formalist and functionalist theorizing is most strongly felt. The generative tradition has ascribed language change by and large to changes in parameter settings induced by the generation change of speakers (e.g. Roberts 2007). Functionalist accounts, on the other hand, attach importance to elucidating the regularities of language change, which they see motivated by factors of usage (e.g., Gvozdanović ed. 1997). As noted by Gisbourne and Hollmann (2012), there have been signs of convergence between formalist and functionalist accounts recently also with respect to Language Change. We encourage contributions relating to the explanative and predictive power of different accounts to language change.

Keynote speakers

Željko Bošković (University of Connecticut, United States)
Egbert Fortuin (Leiden University, Netherlands)
Martin Haspelmath (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany)
Peter Kosta (Potsdam University, Germany)
Nirmalangshu Mukherji (University of Delhi, India)
Anna Maria Di Sciullo (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada; New York University, United States)


Prof. Dr. Peter Kosta
Institut für Slawistik
Universität Potsdam
Am Neuen Palais 10, Haus 1
14469 Potsdam
E-Mail: peter.kosta@uni-potsdam.de

Dr. Katrin Schlund
Slavisches Institut
Universität Heidelberg
Schulgasse 6
69117 Heidelberg
E-Mail: katrin.schlund@slav.uni-heidelberg.de

Dr. Teodora Radeva-Bork
Institut für Slawistik
Universität Potsdam
Am Neuen Palais 10, Haus 1
14469 Potsdam
E-Mail: teodora.radeva-bork@uni-potsdam.de

Letzte Änderung: 26.09.2019