SLaLS Talk: Carrie Gillon, Arizona State University (Nov 16, 2012)

The SLALS department has invited Dr. Carrie Gillon to speak this Friday. The talk will be in TB219 from 1-2:30.

Here is the abstract:

Towards a scientific approach to linguistic typology

Dr. Carrie Gillon
(Arizona State University)
* with Henry Davis and Lisa Matthewson
(University of British Columbia)

At least half of the world’s nearly 7,000 languages will be extinct by the end of this century (Harrison 2007, among many others). In the face of this, we need to uncover, as quickly as possible, accurate information about the nature and extent of linguistic diversity. The question is how to do this.

In recent work, Evans and Levinson (2009), Levinson and Evans (2010) provide an answer: (i) use typological methods of data collection, based on sources using ‘only minimal formalism’ (Levinson &Evans: 2737), and (ii) adopt a ‘coevolutionary’ model of language development.

We argue that this methodology has serious problems: it fails to capture the real diversity of the world’s languages. Further, we argue that there is no dichotomy between typology and formal research, contra E&L. Instead, we show that generative linguists have uncovered a vast amount of linguistic diversity. This is because accurate information about diversity is crucial for the generative program: we need to know the limits of cross-linguistic variation. The only way to uncover accurate information about linguistic diversity is to conduct formal, hypothesis-driven research on a range of languages. That is, we need to do scientific typology.

In this talk, we focus on determiner semantics, showing that cross-linguistic formal study yields more accurate empirical results than does typology based on sources which do not use a hypothesis-driven, scientific methodology.
See the original SLALS notice at:

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