This is a course that offers students the opportunity to pursue their own research in area related to the topic of the seminar. In 2020⁄2021, I am offering a guided research seminar in both semesters on the following topic:
How do we approach the study of diversity and variation across languages? Why are some structures rare, and others common? Why do certain features tend to occur together? Explaining such patterns, which are pervasive across language families and linguistic subfields, is the aim of linguistic typology. A venerable tradition, going back to Wilhelm von Humboldt in the early 19th century, gives a role to structural factors, by identifying ‘types’ that languages belong to, and the properties associated with them. Linguistic structures, however, do not exist in a vacuum, and patterns of variation are often related to contingencies of history. Closely related languages, for instance, are often typologically similar. In the early 20th century, the notion of ‘language areas’ was crystallized and thereby introduced geography into the mix. Increased understanding of the mechanics of language contact also led to deeper insights into how it influences patterns of diversity.
As a result, linguistic typology has increasingly abandoned its focus on structural properties of languages, moving towards a research programme that aims to explain how linguistic diversity patterns in space and time: from ‘what’ to ‘where’, ‘when’, and of course ‘why’. In this seminar we will look at the range of diversity in a number of domains of grammar, consider some key concepts of linguistic typology, and analyse the ways in which theories of grammatical structure and the study of language change, history, anthropology, and geography all contribute to understanding the diversity of human language.
See LASC10011 on DRPS.