We are planning a workshop on Formal Ways of Analyzing Variation (FWAV) which will be part of the 25th SCL (Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics) in Reykjavik, May 13-15, 2013.
We invite abstracts for 20 minute papers (plus 10 minutes for questions). Abstract submission for SCL workshops uses the same procedure as the general conference, so please refer to the general call for papers for guidelines (indicate that your abstract is for the FWAV workshop):
Deadline: November 15, 2012
Notification of acceptance: December 1, 2012
Anton Karl Ingason (
Einar Freyr Sigurdsson (
Charles Yang (
Formal Ways of Analyzing Variation (FWAV)
Labov’s pioneering study on contraction and deletion of the copula in African American Vernacular English (1969) and subsequent work on linguistic variation and change has drawn substantial attention to the relationship between formal analysis and quantitative usage patterns. Robust quantitative regularities have been studied in synchronic as well as diachronic corpus data using a variety of theoretical frameworks. Recently available evidence shows that discrete acceptability judgments in syntax, drawn from a large sample of speakers, also manifest regular quantitative patterns (Thráinsson 2012).
This themed session is a venue for case studies on formal analyses of variation and its implications on grammatical theory, acquisition and change. A specific focus will be on the use of methodology which provide ready access to data and development tools to facilitate replication and extension of research results.
What do formal analyses of variation predict to be possible and impossible?
The session aims to investigate the empirical content of analyses of speaker variation. Representative research questions include, but are not limited to:
What does the variation attach to?
- What are the limits of variation?
- Do our analyses provide unifying accounts for apparently disparate clusters of linguistic properties?
- How does the child analyze a heterogeneous pool of primary linguistic data?
- What types of diachronic trajectories are consequences of language acquisition under variation?
- Is the statistical distribution of variation constrained by grammatical factors?
- How do we make the best use of statistical tools for formal linguistic analysis?
- On a more practical note, the session hopes to contribute to the the practice of replicability, data access, and collaborative development.
We also ask about the relationship between the linguistic machinery and the mechanisms that are responsible for how speakers alternate between functionally equivalent variants. One line of research adopts the design of Chomskyan structure building while proposing independent mechanisms for acquisition of probabilities (Labov 1969, Kroch 1989, Yang 2002). A constraint based parallel is found in Stochastic OT (Boersma & Heyes 2001). Other proposals suggest that frequency distributions in language use are tightly interwoven with the grammar itself. Guy (1991) argued that repeated rule application in Lexical Phonology was responsible for an exponential decay in final -t/-d production in English. Anttilla (1997) and Adger (2006) have proposed analyses where usage probabilities reflect the number of times that equally likely paths through the grammar lead to a particular output. Coetzee (2004) suggested that the comparison-based nature of OT imposes an ordering on the frequency of variants. How can we compare and contrast such a multitude of formal proposals?
It may not be the case that all instances of variable usage are of the same nature. Even if we assume acquired probabilities are a part of a speaker’s knowledge about language, it may still be the case that the variation is due to other, non-linguistic, factors. Furthermore, different domains of language may be subject to different constraints on variation. It has been suggested that unlike phonology, syntax is less sensitive to social evaluation (Labov & Harris 1986) but a concrete formulation of this effect is quite a nuanced task (Ingason et al 2012). The role of interfaces is also important, since variables in syntax can be affected by constraints that operate across the interface, e.g. prosodic constraints on variation in other domains (e.g. Labov 1969, Anttila et al. 2010). Representative questions include:
- Where does the variation come from and how can we distinguish the formal models empirically?
- How do we know which type of mechanism is responsible for which part of language usage?
- How does a formal analysis of variation handle different domains of language and the interfaces between them?
Adger, David. 2006. Journal of Linguistics 42:503–530.
Anttila, Arto. 1997. Deriving variation from grammar. In Variation, change, and phonological theory , ed. Frans Hinskens, Roeland van Hout, and W. Leo Wetzels, 35-68. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Anttila, Arto; Matthew Adams; and Michael Speriosu. 2010. The role of prosody in the English dative alternation. Language and Cognitive Processes. 25(7-9):946-981.
Boersma, Paul, and Bruce Hayes. 2001. Empirical tests of the gradual learning algorithm. Linguistic Inquiry 32:45-86. Available on Rutgers Optimality Archive, http://ruccs.rutgers.edu/roa.html.
Coetzee, Andries. 2004. What it means to be a loser: Non-optimal candidates in Optimality Theory. Ph. D dissertation, UMass Amherst.
Fowler, Joy. 1986. The social stratification of (r) in New York City Department Stores, 24 years after Labov. NYU term paper.
Guy, G. R. 1991. Explanation in variable phonology. Language Variation and Change 3,1:1-22.
Ingason, Anton Karl, Einar Freyr Sigurðsson and Joel C. Wallenberg. 2012. Antisocial Syntax.
Disentangling the Icelandic VO/OV parameter and its lexical remains. Paper presented at DiGS, 14. Lisbon, 6 July 2012.
Kroch, Anthony S. 1989. Reflexes of grammar in patterns of language change. Language
Variation and Change 1:199-244.
Labov, William. 1966. The social stratification of English in New York City. Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington.
Labov, William. 1969. Contraction, Deletion and Inherent Variability of the English Copula. Language, 45,4:715-762.
Labov, William, and Wendell A. Harris. 1986. De facto segregation of black and white
vernaculars. In Diversity and Diachrony, ed. D. Sankoff, 1–24. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
MacDonald, Jeff. 1984. The social stratification of (r) in New York City department stores revisited. Paper written for Anthropology 150, Anthropological Linguistics, for Nancy Bonvillain.
Thráinsson, Höskuldur. 2012. Ideal speakers and other speakers. The case of dative and other cases. Variation in Datives: A Micro-Comparative Perspective. Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Yang, Charles. 2002. Knowledge and Learning in Natural Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.