Haspelmath colloquium [note special time and day]

January 14, 2021

The 2020-2021 colloquium series continues on Friday, Jan 22, with a talk by Martin Haspelmath (MPI-EVA Leipzig), held via Zoom from 8-10am. The talk is entitled "Variable argument marking and the difference between general and particular linguistics," and the abstract is as follows:

In this presentation, I will discuss a range of variable argument marking patterns, such as inverse marking in Ojibwe (Rhodes 1994), variable dative marking in Wolof (Becher 2005), person-based split ergativity in Nez Perce (Deal 2016), variable accusative case marking in Moro (Jenks & Sande 2017), among others.

In a recent paper (Haspelmath 2021a), I have proposed that many argument-marking splits fall under the following high-level generalization:

   The role-reference association universal
   Deviations from usual associations of role rank and referential prominence tend to be coded by longer grammatical forms if the coding is asymmetric.

We will see how many of the well-known patterns of variable argument marking are instances of this, and I will summarize the explanation that I propose, in terms of the efficiency theory of asymmetric coding (Haspelmath 2021b). One of the earliest general statements of (a version of) this explanation is found in Hawkinson & Hyman (1974).

In a second step, I will highlight the importance of the distinction between g-theories and p-theories (general theories of Human Language and of particular languages, respectively), which has often been neglected (Haspelmath 2021c). I will argue that if we make this distinction, we will gain a much better understanding of some of the persistent disparities between different methodological orientations in the field of general grammar. My claims are restricted to g-theories, and I make no p-theoretical claims, so there may be less tension between my proposals and those of others than might appear initially.


Becher, Jutta. 2005. Ditransitive Verben und ihre Objekte im Wolof: Positionsregeln und Kombinierbarkeit. Hamburger afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere (HAAP) 3. 13–27.

Deal, Amy Rose. 2016. Person-based split ergativity in Nez Perce is syntactic 1. Journal of Linguistics. Cambridge University Press 52(3). 533–564. (doi:10.1017/S0022226715000031)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2021a. Role-reference associations and the explanation of argument coding splits. Linguistics (ahead of print) doi: 10.1515/ling-2020-0252 (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004047)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2021b. Explaining grammatical coding asymmetries: Form-frequency correspondences and predictability. Journal of Linguistics, to appear (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004531)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2021c. General linguistics must be based on universals (or nonconventional aspects of language). Theoretical Linguistics, to appear (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005158)

Hawkinson, Annie K. & Hyman, Larry M. 1974. Hierarchies of natural topic in Shona. Studies in African Linguistics 5(2). 147–170.

Jenks, Peter & Sande, Hannah. 2017. Dependent accusative case and caselessness in Moro. Proceedings of NELS, vol. 47.

Rhodes, Richard A. 1994. Agency, inversion, and thematic alignment in Ojibwe. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, vol. 20, 431–446.