Parallel evolution of relative clauses in Indo-European

by Nikolas Gisborne & Robert Truswell (University of Edinburgh)

The Indo-European indefinite/interrogative pronouns *k wi-/k wo- are the source of relative pronouns in several daughter languages, including varieties of Romance, Slavic, and Germanic among others. These pronouns did not head relative clauses in PIE, and so their presence in the relative clauses of the daughter languages is a result of processes of historical evolution which have recurred in different subfamilies. However, this recurring parallel process is by and large confined to Indo-European. Comrie (1998) claims instead that the interrogative relative pronoun strategy is a European areal phenomenon, because it is also found in neighbouring languages such as Hungarian and Georgian. However, there is ample evidence that endogenous innovation gives rise to interrogative relativizers in English and several other Indo-European languages. This suggests that such endogenous processes may be wholly or partly responsible for the emergence of interrogative relativizers across Indo-European. However, these processes are not the same across daughter languages: there appear to be several meandering paths from the same start point to similar endpoints.

In this talk, we establish a framework for describing both the parallel diachronic pathways and the dimensions of variation around those pathways. The broad outline of the parallel developments can be established by combining a typological perspective on Indo-European indefinite/interrogatives with results from Haspelmath (1997) on the relationship between interrogative and indefinite pronouns, from Belyaev & Haug (2014) on the typology of correlatives and conditionals, and from Haudry (1973) on the relationship between correlatives and headed relatives. At the same time, the behaviour of individual lexical items within this typological space is less predictable, accounting for the variation around this broad pathway.

This paper will be read at the Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society in Oxford, Somerville College, on Saturday, 16 June, 4.15pm

Bashkardi – a language by convergence?

by Agnes Korn (CNRS, Paris)

Bashkardi, spoken in Southern Iran inland from the Strait of Hormuz, is a very little known language. The dialects differ on all levels of grammar and show strong influence of Persian. This talk will present some salient features of the phonology and morphology of Bashkardi and compare them to other Iranian languages to shed light on the development of the grammatical structures. I will examine the hypothesis that Bashkardi is not a genetic entity, but a group of Iranian dialects of diverse origin which developed common traits by a process of convergence, having found themselves next to each other in a small region that remains remote even today.

This paper will be read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS, Brunei Gallery building, first floor, room B104, on Friday, 11 May, 4.15pm.

Survey: Attitudes towards digital culture and technology in the Modern Foreign Languages

by Renata Brandão (King’s College London)

Looking at the history, present and future of ‘digital’ Modern Languages research, our strand, Digital Mediations, of the AHRC-funded Language Acts & Worldmaking project explores the effects of digital culture and technology upon Modern Language research, asking what kinds of ‘translation’ are performed as information enters and leaves the digital sphere.

As part of our research, we have just launched a survey of attitudes towards digital culture in the Modern Foreign Languages, with attention to both theory and practice, as part of the Language Acts & Worldmaking project, a flagship project funded by the AHRC Open World Research Initiative, which aims to regenerate and transform modern language learning. Please consider doing the survey if you work in Modern Languages. We would be very interested to hear about your experience.

The survey is aimed at people with any level of digital expertise, and whose work involves Modern Foreign Languages in any role (whether that be as researcher, learner, teacher, funder, policy-maker, digital practitioner, cultural practitioner or other).

For most participants, the survey will take about 15 minutes. For those who have strong involvement in digital theory or practice, you will be offered additional optional questions which might make the survey longer.

We will analyse the survey results for future presentation and publication—all results will be anonymised—and will present initial findings in the coming year.

The survey will be open until 31st May 2018.

To the survey ➡

This survey is part of a research project called ‘Modern Foreign Languages Research: Digital Mediations’ which was submitted to, and approved by, the King’s College Research Ethics committee under its Minimal Ethical Risk Registration Process (REC Reference Number: MR/17/18-280).

 If you have any questions, please contact Paul Spence at


TPS 116(1) – Abstract 6

Changes in status and paradigms? On subject pronouns in medieval French

by Michael Zimmermann (University of Konstanz)

This paper addresses the debate on the morpho‐syntactic status of subject pronouns in the pre‐modern stages of the French language by reinvestigating this issue along with that of the number of paradigms of such elements. On the basis of a collection of the various evidence provided in the literature as well as hitherto ignored and novel empirical insights, the paper discusses the different views put forward and essentially argues that, in its medieval stages, French had two paradigms of, respectively, strong and phonologically clitic subject pronouns. From this finding as well as standard assumptions on the modern (standard) stage of the language the paper eventually concludes that, diachronically, French evinces continuity, rather than changes regarding the two issues under investigation.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12112

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 5

IE *peug′‐ /*peuk′‐ ‘to pierce’ in Celtic: Old Irish og ‘sharp point’, ogam, and uaigid ‘stitches’, Gallo‐Latin Mars Ugius, Old Welsh ‐ug and Middle Welsh ‐y ‘fist’, Middle Welsh vch ‘fox’, and ancient names like Uccius

by Patrick Sims-Williams (Aberystwyth University)

A systematic search for Celtic derivatives of IE *peug′‐ /*peuk′‐ ‘to pierce’ illustrates the extent to which Indo‐European etymological dictionaries have tended to overlook the existence of cognates in the Celtic languages.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12107

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 4

Chinese cleft structures and the dynamics of processing

by Wei Liu (Beijing Jiaotong University) & Ruth Kempson (King’s College London)

This paper addresses the challenge of Chinese cleft structures, involving a pairing of the particles shi and de, which in different combinations display a variety of focus‐related effects and different potentials for ambiguity: clefts and pseudo‐clefts in particular differ only in order of the elements. We argue that retaining conventional assumptions necessarily involves positing unrelated structures and multiple ambiguities, leaving the systematicity of variation unexplained; and we go on to argue that it is only by turning to a dynamic framework in which syntax is defined as mechanisms for incremental build‐up of interpretation that an integrated characterisation of these effects is made possible. Adopting the Dynamic Syntax framework (Cann et al 2005), we argue that shi and de induce procedures for incremental build‐up of construal which feed and can be fed by other such procedures; and we show how the array of effects both in clefts and pseudo‐clefts can be shown to follow from the dynamics of building up interpretation reflecting online processing.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12106

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 3

The Status of Passive Constructions in Old English

by Howard Jones (University of Oxford) & Morgan Macleod (University of Cambridge)

In Old English, passive‐type constructions involving a copula and a passive participle could be used to express both events and states. Two different types of copula are found in these constructions: weorðan, meaning ‘become’, and wesan and beon, meaning ‘be’. There has been some dispute as to how the meaning of these copulas relates to the meaning of the construction as a whole, in both its eventive and its stative uses, and whether any of these constructions was grammaticalized in the sense that its meaning was non‐compositional. We propose a semantic model that represents these constructions compositionally and test it against a selected corpus of Old English texts in order to address two questions: whether the data provide evidence of non‐compositional meaning that would suggest grammaticalization, and whether other factors are also responsible for the choice of copula. Our analysis suggests that the attested Old English passives are fully compatible with a compositional analysis; we also discuss additional semantic factors that may be responsible for the lower frequency of passives with weorðan.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12101