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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

Parametric Comparison in the Clausal Domain

Thursday 30 September 2021
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


This talk is about the Parametric Comparison Method (PCM), which was initially developed by Giuseppe Longobardi and colleagues: see Guardiano & Longobardi (2017) for just one representative discussion. Specifically, it’s about the application of the PCM to a new domain. In general, the PCM brings together two distinct strands of recent scientific research: (i) computational methods originally developed in the context of evolutionary biology, and (ii) a Minimalist understanding of syntactic parameters. To describe the method in a nutshell, sets of parameter values for different languages form the input to computations which output best-fit family trees for these languages.

Work to date on the PCM has focused on parametric variation within the DP. This talk presents an extension of the same methodology to the clausal domain: vP, TP and to a limited extent CP. At the time of writing, we have data on 87 proposed parameters for 36 languages: 23 from (mostly western) Indo-European and the rest from a variety of other families. The results the PCM generates from this dataset produce family trees which closely correspond to the findings of the traditional comparative method. For example, they identify Romance and Germanic and established subgroupings within them, and many other groupings of this type.

Some deviations from the traditional family trees do occur, but in these cases plausible explanations for the observed results can generally be put forward by appealing to language contact. Going beyond this, it seems that the outputs of the methods may themselves provide a tool for independently identifying possible contact effects. Overall, it’s argued that our findings are strong support for the validity of the PCM as a method of establishing family trees.

This presentation is based on joint work with Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge), as part of the project Extending Parametric Comparison.

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