I went to Göttingen last week to talk about modality, which is turning into a pleasant tradition. In my talk, I outlined the typological debate on the irrealis distinction, introduced the tripartite branching-time model that I think will help us the relevant cross-linguistic variation, and discussed how the same approach also sheds new light on some long-standing questions about the nature of modality, counterfactuality and epistemic necessity. You can find the slides here.
There was an interesting small workshop in Torun in April on Measuring Linguistic Complexity. When the call came out, I had just finished a preliminary overview on the previous literature on the topic and was ready to get cracking, so I got together with Vera Demberg to test our hypothesis that focussing on POS tags rather than the token-level annotations would give us more reliable results on syntactic flexibility. Our results are in the proceedings.
My work in the Collaborative Research Unit on information density (ID) in Saarbrücken has made me think about the relation between grammaticalisation and ID. In an invited talk to Saarbrücken in April, I explored some of my ideas on this topic. You can find the slides here.
2017 was a year full of talks, so don’t be surprised if you won’t see me on the circuit as much during 2018. The last talk of that year was at the MPI in Jena, where I talked about some of the things you’ll see if you compare languages based on corpus data that you’re likely to miss if you look at grammatical descriptions. I had some incredibly inspiring conversations and hope to visit more often (maybe even in 2018).
In many languages of the world, emotions and medical conditions are not attributed to an individual, but to a certain body part. For example, instead of saying “I am sad”, you may have to say something along the lines of “my heart is heavy” in many languages. In these cases, the meaning of “being sad” does not reside in a single word. “Heart” alone does not express sadness, and neither does “heavy”. Only the combination of the two can express this concept. The question is then how such languages form expressions that refer to an abstract emotion such as “sadness” . And the answer is that there are different strategies. One strategy is to say something like “the heaviness of the heart”. The Oceanic language Daakaka, however, uses a different strategy. Here, an emotion concept is expressed by a structure such as “the heavy heart”. This paper investigates these differences and their implications. Get it here or ask me for the preprint.