Workshop: Morpho-syntactic isoglosses in Indo-European: Diachrony, typology and linguistic areas (with the support of the Sapienza University of Rome)

Keynote speakers:

Jóhanna Barðdal (Ghent University)
Krzysztof Stroński (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

The last decades are marked with an increasing interest towards the study of isoglosses shared by some branches of the Indo-European language family. As is well-known, next to well-established branches such as Germanic, Greek or Indo-Iranian, there are larger subdivisions within Indo-European, grouping together several branches, in accordance with a number of features, traditionally called isoglosses, shared by more than one group, or by several languages not belonging to the same group (branch-crossing isoglosses). Such isoglosses were always in the spotlight of vivid Indo-Europeanist discussions, giving rise to numerous hypotheses on early splits within Proto-Indo-European or, on the contrary, later contacts among historically attested languages.

Next to a few notorious isoglosses, such as the kentum/satəm division, or the ‘ruki’ division (retraction of the sibilant s), which have been known for a century or so, there are a few less studied morphosyntactic features, often of a much vaguer nature, that equally group together a number of branches and/or languages. These include, for instance, the presence of augment (prefix *(H)e-) (in Indo-Iranian, Armenian, Greek and Phrygian) (Strunk 1992 [1994]); several isoglosses in the evolution of the PIE case system (such as the development of the agglutinating cases in Indo-Iranian and Tocharian; see e.g. Masica 1991: 230ff.; Schmidt 1992: 43; Kulikov 2011 [2012]: 295ff.); the emergence of the infinitive form of the verb (see e.g. Zehnder 2016); several types of evolution of constructions with non-canonical subjects (Barðdal & Smitherman 2009) or the two types of evolution of transitivity oppositions (syncretic vs. antisyncretic type, roughly corresponding to the West/East division within Indo-European branches; see Kulikov 2009); the emergence of a separate lexical class of adjectives (see Alfieri 2011).

There are three possible types of isoglosses, as far as their origin and nature are concerned.

1. Common innovations within a genetic group of languages; such innovations correspond to the divergent isoglosses, allowing the creation of phylogenetic trees.

2. Mutual contacts between daughter-languages of separate branches; these convergent isoglosses can originate from either direct borrowings between sister languages, or borrowings from a common “substrate” language to two, or more, receiving languages (see Kulikov 2011).

3. Random coincidences and common drifts. Some convergent developments of such type can arise thanks to the general principles of natural morphology. In terms of markedness degree, it can be observed that unmarked outcomes are more widespread than the opposite (see Nichols 1999, but already Meillet 1922, discussed in Lazzeroni 1987).

For several attempts to plot IE isoglosses on the map, see, e.g., Anttila 1989: 305 (his Figure 15-2). It could be hypothesized that the more isoglosses we manage to discover, the more definite the shape of the resulting linguistic areas becomes.

A thorough study of the system of isoglosses within Indo-European opens the way towards better understanding and, eventually, more adequate reconstruction of the main features of the Proto-Indo-European morphosyntax. Suffice it to mention, among many others (in chronological order) Lehmann 1974, Kortlandt 1983, Bauer 2000, Jasanoff 2003, Barðdal & Smitherman 2009, Barðdal 2011, Luraghi 2012, adding much to our knowledge based on such seminal works on the ancient Indo-European morphosyntax as Delbrück 1893–97 or Hirt 1934–37.

Moreover, while in the 19th and most of the 20th centuries Indo-European studies predominantly focused on historical, comparative and reconstructional aspects of the Indo-European linguistic family, thus entirely remaining within a descriptive and genetic framework, from the end of the 20th century onwards Indo-European linguistics increasingly concentrates on the typological and explicative evaluation of the reconstructed proto-language and its historical evolution/development(s) towards its reflexes actually attested in the daughter languages. For a general linguistic and/or typological perspective in Indo-European, and, more generally, comparative and historical studies, see Hewson & Bubenik 1997, Comrie 1998, Haspelmath 2004, Luraghi 2011, Barðdal et al. 2012, Barðdal & Smitherman 2013, among many others. In this perspective, the convergent isoglosses represent one of the most reliable tools for the analysis of the structure of Proto-Indo-European, its dialectal split and its further evolution towards actually attested Indo-European languages.

The idea of the workshop is to bring together scholars interested in a systematic study of Indo-European isoglosses, with special focus on the domain of morphology and syntax, and related problems, and thus, to open new perspectives in the research of the ancient Indo-European morphosyntax. The issues to be addressed include:

The workshop will be part of the 23rd International Symposium on Theoretical & Applied Linguistics organized by the Department of Theoretical & Applied Linguistics, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, to be held on March 31 – April 2, 2017, in Thessaloniki, Greece.

We invite papers on all above-listed and related issues. Please send us (Leonid Kulikov []; Nikolaos Lavidas []; Artemij Keidan []) a 300-word abstract of your paper no later than December 31, 2016. Notification of acceptance will be sent by January 10, 2017.

Artemij Keidan
Sapienza University of Rome
Leonid Kulikov
Ghent University 
Nikolaos Lavidas
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki



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