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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

The functional load shift from case to adposition: the role of L2-difficulty

Thursday 11 May 2023
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


This talk proposes that a mixed realisation of case features in the KP (case phrase) is more ‘L2-difficult’ than a harmonic realisation, accelerating, in the correct sociolinguistic scenario, to a shift in the functional load expression in the case and adposition systems.

I take as my theoretical background the Final-Over-Final Condition (FOFC) (Biberauer, Holmberg and Roberts (2014) and the exploded KP approach adopted by Caha (2009), highlighting how the two give the same synchronic predictions concerning both case and adposition inventories and syncretisms. The diachronic predictions made by the FOFC mechanism can be straightforwardly applied to the KP, eliciting two directionality pathways of change (i.e. more or less head-initial).

It is furthermore suggested that L2-difficulty can play an important role in this diachronic change: one of the alternative grammars L2 adults can postulate when faced with a mixed realisation grammar is in line with the diachronic pathway we see in the history of Bulgarian and Macedonian and indeed, many Indo-European languages: that of a loss of morphological case and a rise of adpositions. I argue following Lindstedt (2000, 2018) that it is the historic sociolinguistic make-up of the Balkan Sprachbund that has led to the varying degrees of simplification in the case paradigms of the Balkan Sprachbund languages.

Finally, I show how corpus data can be used to track this functional load shift among case and adposition systems and discuss in which ways Balkan Slavic data supports the diachronic predictions made.


Biberauer, Theresa, Anders Holmberg & Ian Roberts. 2014. A syntactic universal and its consequences. Linguistic Inquiry 45. 169–225

Caha, P. 2009. The Nanosyntax of Case. Ph.D. thesis, University of Tromsø

Holmberg, Anders. 2000. Deriving OV order in Finnish. In Peter Svenonius (ed.), The derivation of VO and OV, 123–152. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Lindstedt, J. (2000). Linguistic Balkanization: Contact-induced change by mutual reinforcement

Lindstedt, J. (2018). Diachronic Regularities Explaining the Tendency towards Explicit Analytic Marking in Balkan Syntax, in Balkan Syntax and (Universal) Principles of Grammar

Roberts, Ian. 2019. Parameter Hierarchies and Universal Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Walkden, George and Breitbarth, Anne. 2019. "Complexity as L2-difficulty: Implications for syntactic change " Theoretical Linguistics, vol. 45, no. 3-4, 2019, pp. 183-209. 

Wahlström, Max. 2015. The loss of case in Bulgarian and Macedonian. Doctoral thesis, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.

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