Abstracts

Jóhanna Barddal Evolution of Indo-European Subjecthood
The NonCanCase project aims at uncovering the syntactic behavior of noncanonical subject-like arguments from the earliest Indo-European daughters to Proto-Indo-European, as a part of a larger research program on the development of noncanonical subjects. At present we have a good proportion of data from Germanic, some from Lithuanian, Latin, and Sanskrit, and the goal is to gather data from all 11 branches of the Indo-European languages. The present talk focuses on Germanic and how one may go about reconstructing grammatical relations for a proto-stage, including how to reconstruct noncanonically case-marked subjects. A discussion will be presented of subjects, subject definitions, subject properties, and the factors that decide which argument of the argument structure is assigned subject status.
Benjamin Fagard and Elisa Omodei Cases, Prepositions, and In-Betweens. Sketching a Model of Grammatical Evolution
Most languages we know have either case marking, adpositions, or both. We know that case marking generally results from the grammaticalization of adpositions, themselves often resulting from the grammaticalization of adverbs (Lehmann 1985): this phenomenon has been reconstructed for Indo-European, and is attested for Hungarian, among others. We also know that languages with case marking can ‘lose’ their case system, which is then generally replaced by adpositions: this is what happened for many Indo-European languages, and is attested in the shift from Latin to modern Romance (except Romanian). Despite much work on the subject (from Bopp and Meillet to, much more recently, Hewson & Bubeník 2006), we still cannot figure out completely how these shifts took place. What is it that makes a language go from case-marking to adpositions, or vice versa?We decided to tackle this difficult problem with a completely different approach, i.e. a model of this type of evolution (for other attempts of this kind, see e.g. Batali 1998, van Trijp 2012). We therefore built a model, aiming to account for the (in)stability of language systems, i.e. the fact that language systems are always subject to variation, but this variation does not systematically lead to change (cf. the very progressive and in some cases incomplete loss of case systems in Indo-European languages). In other terms, the same model should reproduce long periods of stability but also the shift to other systems. Of course, an abstract model will not provide us with a definitive answer, but it could help us find out more about the dynamics of these phenomena. The features of the model we present are inspired from our experience in the diachronic study of ‘real-life’ cases and adpositions. Each step of the model thus has a linguistic justification, and we will show the advantages and limits of such an approach.
  • Lehmann, C. 1985. Grammaticalization: synchronic variation and diachronic change. Lingua e Stile, 20, 303-318.
    Hewson, J. & V. Bubeník. 2006. From case to adposition: the development of configurational syntax in Indo-European languages. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Batali, J. 1998. Computational Simulations of the Emergence of Grammar. In Hurford, J., Studdert-Kennedy, M. & Knight C. (eds). Approaches to the Evolution of Language: Social and Cognitive Bases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 405-426.
  • van Trijp, Remi. 2012. Not as Awful as it Seems: Explaining German Case through Computational Experiments in Fluid Construction Grammar. Proceedings of the 13th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Avignon: ACL.
Simon Pauw Size Matters: Agent-Based Models for the Origins of Quantifiers
Words like many and few have a dual nature: though traditionally analyzed as quantifiers (many of the houses), they also behave like gradable adjectives (few/fewer houses). In fact, such terms pattern syntactically and semantically with both quantifiers and adjectives. Why aren’t they confined to one grammatical class? What is the cognitive basis for their dual behavior? And how might such conceptual and linguistic duality have evolved?
Crosslinguistic properties of these terms (henceforth, gradable quantifiers) suggest close ties between the functions of quantification and predication. Some languages have no separate grammatical class for expressing number, but instead use size-modifying adjectives, as in the extension of the Pirahã predicate hói ‘small’ to indicate ‘a small number’. Historical evidence also suggests that gradable quantifiers typically derive from adjectives, as illustrated by the quantifier few, based on the Old English adjective feawe.
In this talk I explore the hypothesis that the duality of gradable quantifiers has its roots in the close cognitive relationship between size and number. Judgments of size (underlying modifiers such as big and small) depend on perceptual features of objects (or sets of objects) in the environment. Judgments of approximate number (underlying terms like few and many) exploit a combination of spatial features that apply exclusively to sets of objects, such as their size and density. This cognitive overlap between the concepts of size and number may account for the duality observed in gradable quantifiers: the dependence on size motivates their adjectival uses, while their application to sets of objects motivates their quantificational uses.
I will describe a computational model that captures the insight above within the evolutionary language games framework, in which robotic agents self-organize the means for describing objects (or in this case, groups of objects) in their perceived environment. The model allows the exploration of the specific conditions under which the hypothesis might hold. In particular, agents equipped with an approximate number sense that incorporates size can be shown to develop linguistic terms with the dual functions observed in gradable quantifiers. On the other hand, this duality does not arise for agents whose number estimation abilities do not rely on spatial features. Overall, these results highlight how the duality of gradable quantifiers stems from the cognitive overlap between number and size. More generally, they suggest how the inclusion of cognitive constraints may illuminate the origins of both conceptual and linguistic duality.
Lotte Sommerer Category Emergence and the Development of Articles in Old English
Diachronic Construction Grammar argues that the formal and functional diachronic development of linguistic forms and constructions is influenced “by the analogical links to other constructions in a larger taxonomic network” (Kaltenböck 2010: 21; cf. Fried & Östman 2004: 12; Croft & Cruse 2004: 262-4). More abstract constructions can exert influence on more concrete, (sometimes purely lexical) constructions and vice versa (Traugott 2007: 525; Noël 2007: 184). It will be agrued that also in the case of article (category) emergence one should not underestimate the influence of constructions. A construction is a “grammatical primitive” which can be “both the source and outcome of grammaticalization” (Traugott & Trousdale 2010: 13, cf. DeLancey 1993; Haspelmath 2004; Hoffmann 2004). Using evidence from an extensive qualitative and quantitative corpus study (York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE)) it will be suggested that the English articles developed due to the emergence of a positional, syntactic, lexically underspecified ‘determination slot’ in early Old English. This slot becomes functional itself which leads to the recruitment (and grammaticalization) of the demonstrative se and the numeral an as obligatory default slot fillers (articles). In other words, article development was driven by the emergence of a schematic lexically underspecified macro construction with a slot (van de Velde 2010: 291; Trousdale & Traugott 2010: 12). This construction is formalized as the [[Xdeterminative]DETERMINATION + [Zcn]HEAD]NP{def}– construction and its emergence is best explained by a non-nativist, usage-based, frequency-driven, analogical model of morphosyntactic change which takes into account a) the frequency of linguistic surface forms (i.e. concrete tokens) b) the importance of analogical pattern recognition and transfer and c) the influence of taxonomically related constructions.
Luc Steels Modeling the Emergence of Agreement Systems
Grammatical agreement means that features associated with one linguistic unit (for example number or gender) become associated with another unit and then possibly overtly expressed, typically with morphological markers. It is one of the key mechanisms used in many languages to show that certain linguistic units within an utterance grammatically depend on each other. Agreement systems are puzzling because they can be highly complex in terms of what features they use and how they are expressed. Moreover, agreement systems have undergone considerable change in the historical evolution of languages. This talk presents language game models with populations of agents in order to find out for what reasons and by what cultural processes and cognitive strategies agreement systems arise. It demonstrates that agreement systems are motivated by the need to minimize combinatorial search and semantic ambiguity, and it shows, for the first time, that once a population of agents adopts a strategy to invent, acquire and coordinate meaningful markers through social learning, linguistic self-organization leads to the spontaneous emergence and cultural transmission of an agreement system. The talk also demonstrates how attested grammaticalization phenomena, such as phonetic reduction and conventionalized use of agreement markers, happens as a side effect of additional economizing principles, in particular minimization of articulatory effort and reduction of the marker inventory. More generally, the talk illustrates a novel approach for studying how key features of human languages might emerge.
Freek Van de Velde Degeneracy in Historical Linguistics: Examples from West-Germanic
Like the stock market or ant colonies, language is a complex adaptive system (Holland 1992; Beckner et al. 2009; Bybee 2010). One of the properties of such systems is that they rely on what in biology is called ‘degeneracy’. In this context, degeneracy has nothing to do with its common sense meaning of deterioration, but is a technical term for the phenomenon that structurally different elements can fulfill the same function (see Edelman & Gally 2001). A simple example is thermoregulation in the human body, which is degenerately controlled by (a) goose bumps, (b) countercurrent flow, (c) transpiration, (d) arteriolar vasodilation etc. An example of degeneracy in language is the expression of past tense in Germanic by ablaut and by a dental suffix (English ‘spoke’ vs. ‘talked’). In light of the growing idea that language change can be modeled by appealing to general evolutionary processes (Croft 2000; Ritt 2004; Mufwene 2008; Rosenbach 2008; Steels 2011), we may arrive at a better understanding of grammatical change by applying the concept of degeneracy to form-function change, where degeneracy may serve the function of making languages flexible to manage instability in times of syntactic change. I will show how the concept can be applied to (i) clause combining (subordination), (ii) argument realisation, (iii) the inner syntax of the NP and (iv) auxiliaries. I will focus on West Germanic.
  • Beckner, C., R. Blythe, J. Bybee, M.H. Christiansen, W. Croft, N.C. Ellis, J. Holland, J. Ke, D. Larsen-Freeman, T. SChoenemann. 2009. ‘Language is a complex adaptive system: position paper’. Language Learning 59(S1): 1-26.
  • Bybee, J. 2010. Language, usage, and cognition. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Croft, W. 2000. Explaining language change: an evolutionary approach. Harlow: Longman.
  • Edelman, G.M. & J.A. Gally. 2001. ‘Degeneracy and complexity in biological systems’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98(24): 13763-13768.
  • Holland J. 1992. ‘Complex adaptive systems’. Daedalus 121(1): 17-30.
  • Mufwene, S.S. 2008. Language Evolution. Contact, Competition and Change. London: Continuum.
  • Ritt, N. 2004. Selfish sounds. A Darwinian approach to language change. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Rosenbach, A. 2008. ‘Language change as cultural evolution: evolutionary approaches to language change’. In: R. Eckhardt, G. Jäger, T. Veenstra (eds.), Variation, selection, development. Probing the evolutionary model of language change. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 23-72.
  • Steels, L. 2011. ‘Modeling the cultural evolution of language’. Physics of Life Review 8: 339-356.
Remi van Trijp Modeling the Evolution of the German Agreement System
The German definite article paradigm, which is notorious for its case syncretism, is widely considered to be the accidental by-product of diachronic changes. In this presentation I will argue instead that the evolution of the paradigm has been motivated by the needs and constraints of language usage. This hypothesis is supported by experiments that compare the current paradigm to its Old High German ancestor (OHG; 900-1100 AD) in terms of linguistic assessment criteria such as cue reliability, processing efficiency and ease of articulation. Such a comparison has been made possible by “bringing back alive” the OHG-system through a computational reconstruction in the form of a processing model. The experiments demonstrate that syncretism has made the New High German system more efficient for processing, pronunciation and perception than its historical predecessor, without however harming the language’s strength at disambiguating utterances.
Remi van Trijp How Fluid Construction Grammar Supports Modeling Language Change. An Example from Argument Structure
In their introduction to their 2003 volume on the origins of language, Morten Christiansen and Simon Kirby have provocatively asked: is language evolution the hardest problem in science? Without attempting to answer that question, it is clear that language evolution is extraordinarily complex because the mapping between meaning and form is often multilayered and indirect. The scientific modeling of language evolution therefore requires a powerful, yet robust and open-ended grammar formalism. In this presentation, I will show how Fluid Construction Grammar is able to handle the many issues that arise when investigating language evolution through a case study on argument structure and case.
Pieter Wellens Basic Mechanisms for Convention Formation and Concept Sharing
Constructions can be seen as capturing bits of linguistic convention among groups of speakers. I will talk about how agent-based modelling, and in particular the language game paradigm, can help us in distinguishing different kinds of problems encountered in trying to reach consensus/convention. These problems, which I call conventionalisation problems, can be formalised and investigated computationally by implementing language strategies that overcome the conventionalisation problems and lead to the emergence of the desired language system.