Most generally, I’m interested in uncovering the principles that drive the grammatical organization of human languages. To this end, my work combines the analysis of patterns of intralinguistic variation (notably in large electronic corpora) with the study of cross-linguistic unity and diversity, which is the focus of modern language typology. This perspective ultimately derives from my theoretical commitment to usage-based theories of language, in which functional pressures on language performance are believed to have a crucial impact on the emergence and development of linguistic systems; hence the emphasis on combining analyses of usage and grammar.
Current research projects
Principles of linearization in complex-sentence constructions
[partly funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG); Holger Diessel and Karsten Schmidtke-Bode]
This project examines the structure and development of complex sentences as dynamic systems in a balanced sample of more than 100 independent languages. We have designed a large typological database on adverbial, relative and object complement clauses (plus related construction types), each coded, at a construction-specific level, for a variety of typologically relevant parameters of clause combining. Our primary focus in this project is the linear organisation of complex sentences, i.e. the position of subordinate clauses vis-à-vis their matrix clauses, and we investigate how the position systematically correlates with numerous other variables (e.g. the form of the verb, the expression of TAM categories, the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic structure of the subordinate clause, among many others). Such multilateral correlations have been severely neglected in typological research (especially in the discussion of the classic ‘word order correlations’), and they are the result of principled, usage-based pathways of diachronic development. The overall goal of the project is thus to develop an understanding of the multiple forces and pathways that drive the development of complex-sentence systems, and to uncover significantly recurring types of grammatical organization in a model that unites linear and syntactic structure, rather than treating them as two separate dimensions of the language system.
New approaches to the typology of complementation systems
This project examines complement clauses and complementation strategies in the general context of the above-mentioned larger typological project. In addition to a principled typology of the grammar of complement constructions, however, the focus of this project is on the synchronic organisation and diachronic rise of complementation systems. This comprises, in particular, (i) a usage-based reinterpretation of seemingly iconic distributions of form-function mappings in complementation (e.g. Givón 1980), (ii) the interplay of object and subject clauses (which shows many interesting constraints across the world’s languages), and (iii) the classification of complement-taking predicates (which is derived by exploratory statistical analysis rather than from preconceived categories, as in more traditional research).
This long-term project seeks to apply the 'converging-evidence method' sketched above to describe and motivate systematic matches between corpus data of individual languages and cross-linguistic distributions of grammaticalized usage conventions (in the spirit of Hawkins 2004).
Presentations and talks
Linear and morphosyntactic structure in complementation systems. [Invited talk, Workshop on Complementation in Eurasian Languages, University of Mainz, November 2011; with Holger Diessel]
Pre- and postnominal relative clauses: Syntactic structure and diachronic evolution. [Freiburg University and FRIAS, May 2011; with Holger Diessel and Katja Hetterle]
The distribution of complementation constructions over argument-structural space. [invited talk, Workshop on the Fine Structure of Grammatical Relations, University of Leipzig, December 2010]
Competing motivations for the linear structuring of complex sentences. [with Holger Diessel and Katja Hetterle; paper presented at the Workshop on Competing Motivations, MPI Leipzig, November 2010]
Frequenzeffekte aus diachron-universalistischer Perspektive. [invited co-dicussant (with Martin Haspelmath) at a workshop of the Graduiertenkolleg DFG GRK 1624 "Frequenzeffekte in der Sprache" (University of Freiburg), November 2010]
Linearization and syntactic structure in complex sentences. [with Holger Diessel and Katja Hetterle; paper presented at the Syntax of the World’s Languages IV, Lyon, September 2010]
The relationship between clausal subjects and objects in typological perspective. [paper to be presented at the 6th International Contrastive Linguistics Conference, Berlin, September 2010]
Avertive constructions: Cross-linguistic convergence in the symbolization of experience. [paper presented at the 3rd UK-Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Hatfield/GB, July 2010]
New directions in the study of diachronic change. [Linguistics Colloquium, FSU Jena, July 2010]
Typologizing sentential subject constructions. [paper presented at the 8th Biennial Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology (ALT 8), Berkeley/USA, July 2009]
'Sentential' subjects and the typology of complementation systems. [Linguistics Colloquium, FSU Jena, July 2009]
The grammar of positive and negative purpose: Towards a usage-based typology. [inivited talk, Max-Planck-Institut für Evolutionäre Anthropologie Leipzig, June 2009]
Schreiben von Exposés und Forschungsanträgen. [invited talk, Kolloquium für empirische Fachdidaktik, FSU Jena, May 2009, May 2008]
Performance-grammar correspondences and the typology of complex sentences. [Invited talk, Research Centre of English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, UK. February 10, 2009]
The role of benefactives and related notions in the typology of purpose clauses. [paper presented at a workshop on the Typology of Benefactives and Malefactives, University of Zurich, October 25-26, 2007.]
The acquisition of English purpose clauses. [paper presented in the theme session on Language Acquisition at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference 10 (ICLC), Krakow, July 2007.]
Principles of cross-linguistic research. [Linguistics Colloquium, FSU Jena, November 2006.]
Why students hate grammar…and why it’s actually quite interesting. An introduction to studying languages. [invited speaker, Tag der Wissenschaften, Albert-Schweizer-Gymnasium Ruhla, July 2006.]
Purpose clauses – Perspectives from language acquisition and linguistic typology. [Linguistics Colloquium, FSU Jena, May 2006.]