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Linguistic typology and language universals

Course script PART I - Holger Diessel

Languages of the world

Number of speakers Mandarin English Hindi Spanish Russian Arabic Bengali Portuguese Indonesian Japanese French German 907 456 383 362 293 208 189 177 148 126 123 119

(Whaley 1997:139

Language sampling

Table 1. Percentage of basic constituent orders Order SVO SOV VSO VOS OVS OSV Greenberg (1966) 43% 37% 20% 0% 0% 0% Tomlin (1986) 42% 45% 9% 3% 1% 0%

Convenient language sample Proportional language sample.

Types of universals

1. Absolute universals vs. statistical universals a. All languages have vowels and consonants. b. Most languages place the subject before the object.

2. Implicational universals (1) Peter saw himself (in the mirror). (2) Peter saw him (in the mirror).

If a language has reflexive pronouns for first and second person, it also has reflexive pronouns for third person. Table 2. The crosslinguistic distribution of reflexives all persons reflexive non-reflexive x x 3. only person x

There are languages that have reflexive pronouns for all persons. There are languages that do not have reflexive pronouns at all. There are languages that employ reflexive pronouns only for 3. person. There is no language that employs reflexive pronouns except for 3. person. me you him/her/it mich dich ihm/ihr/es m hine/hi/hit myself yourself himself/herself/itself mich dich sich m hine/hi/hit



Old English

3. Universal hierarchies

a. b.

SUBJ > OBJ > OBL > GEN white/black > red > green/yellow > blue > brown

4. Semantic maps

questions indirect negation no specific known specific unknown irrealis non-specific conditional comparative free choice direct negation


(1) (2) (3) (4)

I saw somebody/*anybody. Did you see somebody/anybody. I didnt see *somebody/anybody. *Somebody/anybody can win.

specific unknown question indirect negation free choice


questions KA indirect negation direct negation

specific known

Specific unknown

irrealis non-specific



free choice


Explaining linguistic universals

1. Innateness The argument from the poverty of the stimulus (Chomsky)

2. Discourse (1) The police officer saw the womani. He probably knew heri but (2) The police officer saw heri. He probably knew the womani but 3. Sentence processing (1) The man who Peter who was tired saw was sick.

4. Economy (1) lexical word > grammatical word > affix > zero

5. Iconicity (1) a. We went home before Mary left. b. Before Mary left we went home. (2) a. We went home after Mary left. b. After Mary left we went home.

Competing motivations Iconic MAIN-SUB SUB-MAIN x, before y after x, y Non-iconic y, after x before y, x

Grammatical categories
Parts-of-speech (lexical categories) Nouns (N) Verbs (V) Adjectives (ADJ) Adverbs (ADV) Pronouns (PRO) Determiner (DET) Preposition (P) Conjunction (COMP) Auxiliaries (AUX)

Grammatical relations Subject Direct object Indirect object Adverbials

Thematic roles Agent Patent Theme Experiencer Beneficary Instrument Location Recipient

Phrasal categories Noun phrases (NP) Verb phrase (VP) Prepositional phrase (PP) Clause/sentence (S)

Headcomplementadjunct Head Complement Adjunct

Morphological categories of the noun

Lindsay J. Whaley. 1997. Introduction to Linguistic Typology. The Unity and Diversity of Language, chap 4. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications


Tmpisa Shoshone (Uto-Aztecan) (1) kapaayu- horse-SG the/a horse (2) kapaayu-angku horse-DU (two) horses (3) kapaayu-amm horse-PL (more than two) horses

Hawaiian (Austronesian) (1) elau two al may mau PL ia fish

my two fish

Case Luiseno (Uto-Aztecan) (1) ?wut kasila-y eagle lizard-OBJ toow-q see-SG

The eagle sees the lizard.


Mojave (Yuman) (1) hatq- dog-SUBJ po cat taver-m chase-PRS/PST

The dog chased the cat.

Latin (IE) (1) equ-us Horse-NOM reg-em king-ACC vd see.PERF.3SG


The horse saw the king. Japanese (1) John John ga Mary o OBJ but-ta hit-PST words


John hit Mary. English (1) (2) I saw the Queens crown. I saw the Queen of Englands crown. clitics

Kanuri (Nilotic) (1) km-ga man-OBJ rskena I.saw


I saw the man. (2) [km man kr]-ga big-OBJ rskena I.saw

I saw the big man. (3) [ft Compound [km man kr]ve]-ga big-GEN-OBJ rskena I.saw

I saw the big mans compound.


Direct and indirect object Latin (IE) (1) puell-ae girl-DAT pecni-am money-ACC da-t give-3S

He gives money to the girl.

Locative case markers allative illative ablative motion to absence of motion motion away from

Quechua (1) Utavalu-li Otavalo-in kawasa-ni live-1

I live in Otavalo. (2) Utavalo-mando Otavalo-from shamu-ni come-1

I come from Otavalo. (3) wasi ladu-pi

house near-at near the house

Instrumental case Yareba (Papua New Guinea) (1) dana he boro pig auri-ma spear-INST yanai spear.3S

He killed the pig with a spear.


Genitive case (1) (2) Jenas mayor The mayor of Jena

Possessive affixes Masalit (Nilotic) (1) leri-mbe donkey-1SG my donkey (2) leri-na donkey-2SG your donkey (3) leri-ta donkey-3SG his/her donkey Table 1. Alienable and inalienable possession in Cree Alienable possession +possessor ni-mhkomn 1SG-knife my knife -possessor mhkomn knife a knife Inalienable possession +possessor ni-sksik 1SG-eye my eye -possessor mi-sksik (*sksik) non.POSS-eye an eye

Gender / Noun Class (1) (2) (3) Der Mann Die Frau Das Mdchen

Dyirbal (Pama-Nyungan) (1) a. bayi MASC yara man b. bayi MASC yamani rainbow

the/a man (2) balan FEM dugumbil woman

the/a rainbow

the/a woman (3) balam PLANT miran black.bean

black bean (4) bala INAN dawun dilly bag

the/a dilly bag

Mandarin (Sinitic) (1) sn-ge Three-CLASS three people (2) zhi-zhn This-CLASS this lamp (3) zhi-ge This-CLASS this chair (4) ni-tio That-CLASS that cow ni cow yzi chair dng lamp rn person


Definiteness Swedish (1) hus-et house-DEF the house (2) hus-en house-INDEF a house

The noun phrase



ADJ young

N N P mans dream of


A N good life

Wardaman (Pama-Nyungan) (1) dang-nyi Yonder-ERG wunggun-bu-ndi 3SG:3NON.SG-hit-PST yibiyan-yi man-ERG

That man hit them.

Das geistig Zusammengehrende steht beieinander. [Behagel 1923-32]


Personal pronouns

1. person I me we

2. person you you you

3. person he him she her they it it


The man saw the woman. He/she saw him/her.

Finnish (Uralic) (1) laul-an laula-t laula-vi laula-mme laula-tte laula-vat I sing You sing He sings We wing You sing They sing

Swahili (Niger-Congo) (1) a-li-ni-piga 3SG.SUBJ-PST-1SG.OBJ-hit He/she hit me.

(2) u-ta-ni-penda a-ta-ni-penda a-ta-ku-penda a-ta-m-penda

You will like me He will like me He will like you He will like him

a-ta-ku-penda a-ta-m-penda u-ta-m-penda

I will like you I will like him You will like him

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns my your his her its

Possessive determiners mine yours his hers its

Relative pronouns

(1) (2)

The man who(m) I saw. The bike that I bought.

Indefinite pronouns

Universal Positive

Pronoun everyone everybody everything all both no one nobody nothing none

Determiner every/each


all both none/no


Partitive Assertive

Pronoun someone somebody something some anyone anybody anything none

Determiner some



Interrogative pronouns


What did you talk about __ in class?

Mandarin (Sinitic) (1) w qng shi I ch fan

invite whom eat food

Whom did I invite to eat.

Demonstrative pronouns

English Proximal this Distal that

Japanese Near S sono Near H kono Distant ano


The relationship between demonstratives and interrogatives

Diessel, Holger. 2003. The relationship between demonstratives and interrogatives. Studies in Language.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Interrogative Pronouns

Third Person PRO

Relative PRO

Indefinite PRO

Possessive PRO

(1) der da (2) celui-ci/l (3) denhr/dendr

Syntactic properties

Table 1. English


this / that this / that here / there

who, what which where, when, why, how


Table 2. French DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUN NOUN MODIFIER ADVERB celui / celle ce / cette ice, l INTERROGATIVE qui / que quel / quelle o, quand, pourquoi, comment

Semantic features

Table 3. DEM and WH in English Demonstratives Person Thing Place Direction:to Direction:from Time Manner that (one) that (one) there thither thence then thus (that way) Interrogatives who what where whither whence when how

Table 4. DEM and WH in Punjabi (Bhatia 1993: 233) Demonstratives Person Thing Place Direction Time Manner Amount tthe ddar huN v nnaa

Interrogatives kauN kii ktthe kddar kad kv knnaa

Table 5. DEM and WH in Lezgian (Haspelmath 1993: 188) Demonstratives Person/Thing Place Place:at Place:on Place:in Direction:to Direction:from Manner Amount Quality im inag ina inal inra iniz inaj ik iqwan ixtin Interrogatives him / wuz& hinag hina hinal hinra hiniz hinaj hik(a) hiqwan hixtin

Table 6. DEM and WH in Japanese (Hinds 1986: 266, 270) Demonstratives Person Thing Place Direction Manner Amount kore koko kochira koo konna ni Interrogatives dare dore doko dochira doo donna ni


Table 7. DEM and WH in Malayalam (Asher and Kumari 1997:268) Demonstratives Person Thing Place Direction:to Time Manner Amount ii ii iviTe inn ippoo iine itra Interrogatives evan / aar ent eviTe enn eppoo eine etra

Interrogatives tend to distinguish between human (who) and nonhuman (what) referents. Demonstratives are deictic, i.e. they distinguish between proximal and distal forms.

Phonetic features

Demonstratives and interrogatives share two phonetic features: In some languages, they all begin with the same formative They are generally stressed.


The semantic similarities between demonstratives and interrogatives are motivated by similar pragmatic functions. Both types of expressions are directives. They function to draw the hearers attention on entities that previously were not activated or in focus.


Verbal categories
Lindsay J. Whaley. 1997. Introduction to Linguistic Typology. The Unity and Diversity of Language, chap 4. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications

Morphological categories of the verb

Verb classes: 1. intransitive verbs 2. transitive verbs 3. ditransitive verbs

Inflectional categories: 1. tense 2. aspect 3. mood


Absolute tense Peter is working Peter was working Peter has been working Peter will be working Present Past Present Perfect Future 1

Relative tense Peter had been working (before he went to bed) Peter will have finished work (when you come)

Past Perfect Future 2

1. Tense affixes

Latin (IE) voc- voc-bam voc-b voc-vi voc-veram voc-ver I call / I am calling I was calling / I used to call I will call I called / I have called I had called I will have called PRESENT PAST FUTURE PERFECT PAST PERFECT FUTURE PERFECT

2. Tense auxiliaries I will go You will go He will go


(1) I have gotten a letter from Sue. (2) I was working.

Present perfect Progressive




Aktionsart / lexical aspect



states [-telic] [+te ic]

[-durative] [+durative]







(1) She hated ice cream. (2) The gate banged. (3) Your cat watched those birds. (4) The cease-fire began at noon yesterday. (5) Her boss learned Japanese.

(State) (Semelfactive) (Activity) (Achievement) (Accomplishment)

Mood Subjunctive German (1) Er kommt zur Party. (2) Er sagt er komme (kme) zur Party. (3) Wenn er zur Party kme,

English (1) I insist that we reconsider the Councils decision. (2) The employees demand that he resign. (3) I suggest that you be President. (4) If she were leaving you would have heard about it. (5) I wish I were you.

(1) Peter must go. (2) That must be right.

deontic epistemic

Imperative (1) Give me the key. (2) Gib mir den Schlssel. (3) Geben Sie mir den Schlssel.

Hortative (1) Lets go to the movies.

Interrogative Japanese has interrogative mood expressed by sentence particles.

Japanese (1) Kore wa hon desu yo DECL

This TOP book is CThis is a book. (2) Kore wa hon

desu ka is Q

This TOP book Is this a book?


Other categories of the verb

Swahili (Niger-Congo) (1) a-li-ni-piga 3SG.SUBJ-PST-1SG.OBJ-hit He/she hit me. English (IE) (1) Peter kicked the ball. (2) The ball was kicked (by Peter). Turkish (Turkic) (1) Hasan l-d. Hasan die-PST Hasan died. (2) Ali Hasan l-dr-d. Ali Hsan die-CAUSE-PST




Ali killed Hasan. Maasai (Nilo-Saharan) (1) m-a-rany NEG-1S-sing I do not sing. German (IE) (1) hin-/her-bringen hin-/her-stellen hin-/her-laufen hin-/her-legen hin-/her-schwimmen DIRECTION NEGATION


Morphological typology
Lindsay J. Whaley. 1997. Introduction to Linguistic Typology. The Unity and Diversity of Language, chap 8. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications

Index of Synthesis



Languages with no bound morphemes are called isolating languages. Strictly speaking, there are no languages that do not have at least some bound morphemes. However, some languages have very little bound morphology.


Vietnamese (Comrie 1981: 43) Khi ti n come nha ban ti,

When I

house friend I

When I came to my friends house,

chng ti bt PL I begin

u lm do

bi. lessen

we began to do lessons.

Languages with a large amount of inflectional morphology are called synthetic languages.


(2) Kirundi (Whaley 1997:20) Y-a-bi-gur-i-ye CL1-PST-CL8.them-buy-APPL-ASP He bought them for the children. abna CL2.children

(3) Mohawk (Mithun 1984: 868) a. r-ukwet-:yo he-person-nice He is a nice person. b. wa-hi-sereth-hare-se PST-he/me-car-wash-for He car-wash for me. (= He washed my car) c. kvtsyu fish v-kuwa-nyat-:ase FUT-they/her-throat-slit

They will throat-slit a fish.

Languages with noun-incorporation are also called polysynthetic languages.

Index of fusion



Languages in which semantic features are expressed by separate and clearly identifiable morphemes are called agglutinative languages.



Turkish (Comrie 1981: 44) SG Nominative Accusative Genitive Dative Locative Ablative adam adam-K adam-Kn adam-a adam-da adam-dan PL adam-lar adam-lar- K adam-lar- Kn adam-lar-a adam-lar-da adam-lar-dan

Languages in which several semantic features are expressed by a portmanteau morpheme are called fusional languages. Portmanteau morphemes must be memorized.

(2) Russian SG Nominative Accusative Genitive Dative Instrumental Prepositional stol stol stol-a stol-u stol-om stol-e PL stol-y stol-y stol-ov stol-am stol-ami stol-ax SG lip-a lip-u lip-y lip-e lip-oj lip-e PL lip-y lip-y lip lip-am lip-ami lip-ax

Table 1. Hypothetical language



pa pi po


no mo o


ku ko ka


sa si so

2nd 3rd


(1) sleep-pa-no-ku-sa V-PST-ACT-1-SG I slept (2) sleep-pi-no-ka-so V-PRS-ACT-3-PL We are sleeping

Table 1. Oneida verbal inflection Prepronominal Negation Direction Iterative Partative Pronominal I I:you.SG I:you.DU I:you.PL I:he you.SG:me you.DU:me you.PL:me Stem Verb Suffixes Aspect

Change of morphological language types


from isolating to agglutinating


Melanesian Pidgin (Whaley 1997: 136) aus blo mi me > aus blo-mi

house belong

house of-me / my


how ever by cause

> >

however because

going to there fore in deed N meaning body-like any body in front of

> > > > > >

gonna therefore indeed -ly anybody in.front.of


from agglutinative to fusional


Paamese (Whaley 1997: 137) a. *na-i-lesi- I-FUT-see-it b. *ko-i-lesi-nau you-FUT-see-me > > ni-lesi- I.FUT-see-it ki-lesi-nau you.FUT-see-me


from fusional to isolating

Table 1. Nominal declension in Old English SG NOM GEN DAT ACC stan stan-es stan-e stan PL stan-as stan-a stan-um stan-as

Table 2. Nominal declension in Modern English SG NOM GEN stone stones PL ston-es ston-es







We dont have any evidence of any language that went through the entire circle, but we have abundant evidence for partial developments. Languages can be isolating in one domain and highly fusional in another domain (e.g. Oneida nouns and verbs). Thus, it is better to think about the different morphological types as characterizations of grammar sections rather than as characterizations of whole languages.


Head-marking vs. dependent-marking

Lindsay J. Whaley. 1997. Introduction to Linguistic Typology. The Unity and Diversity of Language, chap 8.2.2. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications

Possessive constructions


English The mans house



Hungarian (Comrie 1989: 53) az the ember hz-a man house-his


The mans house (3) Turkish (Comrie 1989: 53) Adam-Kn Man-POSS ev-i house-his double-marking

the mans house (4) Haruai (Comrie 1989: 1989: 53) nb man ram house no marking

the mans house

Table 1. Johanna Nichols (1986) Head-dependent pairs Level Phrase Head Possessed noun Noun Adposition Clause Predicate Auxiliary

Dependent Possessor Adjective NP Arguments + Adjuncts Verb



Chechen (Dryer Workbook) da:-s father-ERG woa-na son-DAT urs- knife-NOM t:xira struck dependent

The father stabbed the son. (2) Japanese boku I ga tomudati ni to hana o t:xira dependent

SUBJ friend

flowers OBJ gave

The man gave the woman the book. (3) Abkhaz (Dryer workbook) a-xc?a the-man a-p@s the man a-Sq?@ the-book -l@-y-te-yt? it-her-he-gave-FIN head

The man gave the woman the book. (4) Tzutujil (Dryer workbook) x--kee-tij tzyaq chooyaa? rats head

ASP-3SG-3PL-ate clothes Rats ate the clothes. (5) Dani (Dryer workbook) ap Man palu-nen python-OBJ

-nasikh-e 3SG.OBJ-eat.PST-3SG-SUBJ


The python ate the man. (6) English The man gave Peter the book. zero


Adpositional constructions


German wegen des Wetters mit dem Wind gegen den Wind



Russian (Dryer workbook) s with brat-om brother-INST


with (the) brother) (3) Abkhaz (Dryer workbook) a-j@yas the-river at the river (4) Tzutujil (Dryer workbook) ruu-majk 3SG-because.of jar the aachi man head a-qn@ its-at head

because of the man (5) Turkish (Dryer workbook) Mehmed-in Mehmed-POSS Mehmeds hand (6) Tiwi (Dryer workbook) j@r@k@pai crocodile tuwaia tail zero el-i hand-his double

crocodiles tail


Generalizations across languages (Nichols 1986)

1. Head/dependent marking and level If a language has head-marking morphology anywhere, it will have it at the clause level.

2. Word order and head/dependent marking Head-marking morphology favours verb-initial order, while dependentmarking morphology disfavours it.

3. Occurrence of arguments and head/dependent marking If a language has head-marking at the clause level, arguments can usually be omitted.