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Workshop 2: The learnability of complex constructions from a cross-linguistic perspective


Organizer: Marcel Schlechtweg (Universität Kassel) –

Topic description:

It is well known that languages significantly differ with respect to the types of complex constructions they use or favor. Focusing on inflection, for instance, one observes that Finnish has an agglutinative morphology, Russian a fusional morphology, and Thai an isolating morphology. In the domain of word-formation, cross-linguistic variation is also attested. So, for example, while Germanic languages make abundant usage of compounds in order to express complex lexical concepts, Romance languages often favor syntactic phrases instead for the same purpose (see, e.g., Kastovsky 2009; Zwanenburg 1992). The aforementioned differences between languages have been described and discussed at length in the literature (see, e.g., Booij 2010; Spencer & Zwicky 2001; Stump & Finkel 2013). An issue that has been analyzed much less, however, is whether and how various grammatical systems or construction types differ in their learnability. Looking at Germanic and Romance languages, we found, for example, that compounds are overall learned more efficiently than phrases (see Kotowski, Böer & Härtl 2014; Schlechtweg 2018; Schlechtweg & Härtl 2016). Furthermore, it has been suggested on a theoretical basis, for instance, that agglutinative morphology might be easier to learn than fusional morphology because the former is more transparent (see, e.g., Pinker 1996). The evidence shows, however, that things are not as easy as they seem and that several factors play a role in this context (see Dimitriadis, Boll-Avetisyan & Fritzsche 2017).

The aim of this workshop is to bring together researchers with a theoretical and/or empirical background who are interested in investigating the effects of crosslinguistic morphological/grammatical variation on the learnability of complex constructions. Contributions might address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • What do we know about the learnability, mental representation, and processing of inflected forms, derivatives, compounds, phrases, or other kinds of complex constructions from a cross-linguistic perspective? Do the learnability, representation, and processing of these constructions differ across languages and, if so, what are possible explanations for these observations?
  • Which factors play a role for the learnability of complex constructions? For instance, the compounds in some languages, e.g., in German, are typically characterized by a specific prosodic prominence pattern, while those found in languages such as French are not. Does that have an influence on how these constructions are learned, stored, and processed?
  •  What happens if a language user’s native and foreign language differ with respect to the availability of or preference for specific complex constructions? How are these constructions learned, stored, and processed in a foreign language?



Booij, Geert. 2010. Construction Morphology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dimitriadis, Alexis & Boll-Avetisyan, Natalie & Fritzsche, Tom. 2017. An experimental study of the learnability advantage of agglutinative over fusional morphology. Paper presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea, Zurich, Switzerland, September 10-13, 2017.

Kastovsky, Dieter. 2009. Diachronic perspectives. In Lieber, Rochelle & Štekauer, Pavol (eds.), The Oxford handbook of compounding, 323-340. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kotowski, Sven & Böer, Katja & Härtl, Holden. 2014. Compounds vs. phrases: The cognitive status of morphological products. In Rainer, Franz & Gardani, Francesco & Luschützky, Hans Christian & Dressler, Wolfgang U. (eds.), Morphology and meaning: Selected papers from the 15th International Morphology Meeting,Vienna, February 2012 (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 327), 191-203. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pinker, Steven. 1996. Language learnability and language development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schlechtweg, Marcel & Härtl, Holden. 2016. Memorization and the morphologysyntax divide: A cross-linguistic investigation. SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics 13(2). 46-68.

Schlechtweg, Marcel. 2018. Memorization and the compound-phrase distinction: Aninvestigation of complex constructions in German, French and English (Studia Grammatica 82). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Spencer, Andrew & Zwicky, Arnold M. (eds.). 2001. The handbook of morphology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Stump, Gregory & Finkel, Raphael A. 2013. Morphological typology: From word to paradigm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zwanenburg, Wiecher. 1992. Compounding in French. Rivista di Linguistica 4(1). 221-240.