DGfS workshop “Coding asymmetries”

Linguistic coding asymmetries, usage frequency and informativeness

(Workshop at DGfS conference Saarbrücken, March 2017)


8 March 2017 (Wednesday)

13:45-14:45   Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon (Universität Klagenfurt): t.b.a. (invited talk)

14:45-15:15   Laura Becker & Matías Guzmán Naranjo (Universität Leipzig): Coding asymmetries, frequency and predictability: The case of to vs from

15:15-15:45   Alice Blumenthal-Dramé & Bernd Kortmann (Universität Freiburg):  Causal and concessive relations: Typology meets cognition

16:30-17:00   Livio Gaeta (University of Turin):       Diachrony as a source of coding asymmetries

17:00-17:30   Geoffrey Khan (University of Cambridge):      Asymmetry in the historical development of the copula in Neo-Aramaic

17:30-18:00   Simon Kasper (Philipps-Universität Marburg):           The asymmetry between morphology and word order with respect to informativity

9 March 2017 (Thursday)

9:00-9:30       Sander Lestrade (Radboud University of Nijmegen):  Simulating the development of encoding asymmetries in argument marking

9:30-10:00     Natalia Levshina (Universität Leipzig):            Explaining coding asymmetries: Frequency or informativity?

10:00-10:30   Matti Miestamo (University of Helsinki):       Making sense of the asymmetry between affirmation and negation

11:15-11:45   Na’ama Pat-El (University of Texas, Austin): The Semitic Perfect and the problem of zero subjects

11:45-12:15   Dirk Pijpops & Freek Van de Velde (KU Leuven):     Processing shapes grammar: But whose processing are we talking about?

12:15-12:45   Ulrike Schneider & Britta Mondorf (Universität Mainz):        Why bring is doing the splits: Exploring transitivity as an explanatory factor for coding asymmetries

13:45-14:15   Martin Haspelmath (MPI-SHH Jena & Leipzig University):          On the scope of the form-frequency correspondence principle

14:15-14:45   Karsten Schmidtke-Bode (Universität Leipzig):           On the optionality of boundary markers (and pro-forms) of subordinate clauses

10 March 2017 (Friday)

11:30-12:00   Ilja A. Seržant (Universität Leipzig):    Towards functional motivation for the reduced third person indexing

12:00-12:30   Helen Sims-Williams (University of Surrey):   A diachronic mechanism for form-frequency asymmetries in inflectional paradigms

12:30-13:00   Eva van Lier & Marlou van Rijn (University of Amsterdam): Differential possessive marking of arguments in action nominalizations: A typological survey

13:00-13:30   Jingting Ye (Fudan University & Leipzig University):            Coding asymmetry between independent and dependent pronominal possessors: A cross-linguistic study

13:30-14:00   Natalia M. Zaika (Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences  & Saint-Petersburg State University):       Markedness disharmony in Basque

Workshop call:

Since Roman Jakobson’s classical papers on morphological markedness and on the zero sign, asymmetric morphosyntactic patterns have been a core issue of grammar research. Across languages we find recurrent asymmetric pairs such as nominative/accusative, third/second person, singular/plural, present/future, affirmative/negative, locative/ablative, positive/comparative, adjective/abstract noun, verb/agent noun, noncausative/causative, whose great systematicity is in need of explanation.

Apart from the old markedness concept, there are two further well-known explanatory approaches: On the one hand, the idea of iconicity of complexity (known through John Haiman’s work, cf. Downing & Stiebels 2012), which motivates the greater formal complexity of semantically more complex forms; on the other hand, the proposal that the asymmetries of coding should be explained by usage frequency and informativeness: More frequent forms (nominative, third person, singular, etc.) are more predictable (less informative), and an efficient communication system tends toward shorter or non-overt marking of these forms, as was already noted by G.K. Zipf in the 1920s (Haspelmath 2008). This idea has more recently also been taken up by psycholinguistics and corpus linguistics (e.g. Jaeger 2010).

However this is resolved, we still have no answer to the question how the motivating factors are turned into linguistic conventions. Zipf’s old idea that speakers shorten the most frequent forms does not seem to be general enough, and the precise diachronic mechanisms are still too little known.

Ideally, this workshop would bring together grammarians, typologists, corpus linguists, psycholinguists and diachronic linguists to exchange research results and address these issues jointly.

Martin Haspelmath (MPI-SHH Jena & Leipzig U)

Abstract reading committee:
Holger Diessel (University of Jena)
Sander Lestrade (RU Nijmegen)
Damaris Nübling (University of Mainz)
Elke Ronneberger-Sibold (KU Eichstätt)
Freek Van de Velde (KU Leuven)


Downing, Laura & Barbara Stiebels. 2012. Iconicity. In Jochen Trommer (ed.), The morphology and phonology of exponence, 379-426. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2008. Frequency vs. iconicity in explaining grammatical asymmetries. Cognitive Linguistics 19(1). 1–33.

Jaeger, T. Florian. 2010. Redundancy and reduction: Speakers manage syntactic information density. Cognitive Psychology 61(1). 23–62.

Important dates:

Call deadline: August 28, 2016
Notification of acceptance: September 15, 2016
Workshop dates: March 8-10, 2017