Colloquium: Martina Wiltschko (UBC) – 11/30

Speaker: Martina Wiltschko (UBC)
When: Friday, 11/30 at 3:30 pm
Where: Education 434
Title: The structure of universal categories: Towards a formal typology.

When it comes to the nature of categories within syntactic theory, we can identify two opposing positions:

i) The universalist position:
Categories are universal

ii) The variance position:
Languages differ in the morpho-syntactic categories they make use of

My goal for this talk is to develop a model of grammar which allows us to reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions. I first show that we want to maintain both positions. On the one hand I review some properties of functional categories that suggest that there is a universal set of hierarchically organized categories. On the other hand, I review properties of categories across different languages that suggest that they are indeed language-specific. In fact, I shall argue that categories defined based on word class (i.e., determiner), morphological type (i.e., inflection), or substantive content (i.e., tense) cannot be universal on principled grounds.

Instead I propose a model according to which universal categories are defined based on their core function: classification, anchoring, and discourse linking. I refer to this as the Universal-Spine-Hypothesis. Variance in the inventory of categories across languages arises via different strategies to map form and meaning onto the syntactic spine. This will allow us to formulate a formal typology for functional categories.

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