Logo Utrecht University



9 - 11 June 2017
Crecchio, Italy

Variation and Universals in Language

An important part of the generative enterprise has been to capture the tension between universals and language variation. On the one hand, it is assumed that grammars of individual languages cannot vary unlimitedly; on the other hand, we need to take into account that languages do differ in many details.

In this sense, then, there is a way in which formal grammatical theory has an overlap in interest with linguistic typology. There are important differences, of course:  typologists tend to take ‘languages’ rather than ‘grammars’ as their object of study, and this has important implications for how certain types of evidence are weighed (witness the debate about the Evans & Levinson paper on universals a few years ago).

In this workshop, we want to bring together different ideas about how to deal with typological evidence (in formal grammar). What is the best way to describe language variation in grammatical terms? What is the precise relation between Greenbergian and Chomskyan universals? (Is “none” really the only answer?) How do we deal with individual apparent ‘counterexamples’? What about implicational universals? And what about statistical tendencies? For which of such empirical issues do we hold the grammar responsible and which other kinds of cognitive or other factors might also play a role?

We hope to deepen the discussion of these issues by bringing together formal phonologists, morphologists and syntacticians which have developed sometimes rather different approaches to these issues, as well as typologists, in the hope of generating an engaging discussion on what “language-specific” vs “universal” really means.

This workshop aims at discussing crucial issues, so we would not want to spend all our time in presentations. In order to have as much room for discussion as  possible, we have asked the speakers to send a draft paper a month before of the workshop.

During the weekend itself, we will ask each of you to refresh people’s memory with a 5-minute presentation, after which there will be a slot of about 30 minutes for discussion of every paper (or groups of papers).


David Adger, Queen Mary University, London

Birgit Alber, University of Verona

Theresa Biberauer, University of Cambridge

Andries Coetzee, University of Michigan

Jeroen van Craenenbroeck, University of Leuven

Roberta D’Alessandro, Utrecht University

Anna Maria Di Sciullo, Université du Québec à Montréal

Ángel Gallego, Autònoma University of Barcelona

Martin Haspelmath, MPI-SHH Jena / Leipzig university

Marjo van Koppen, Utrecht University

Giorgio Magri, CNRS and University of Paris 8

M.Rita Manzini, University of Florence

Heather Newell, Université du Québec à Montréal

Marc van Oostendorp, Meertens Instituut Amsterdam

Andrea Sansò, University of Insubria

Tobias Scheer, University of Nice

Program and position statements

The program and position statements can be found here