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The 5th conference “Constructional & Lexical Semantic Approaches to Russian” (RusConstr) will be held on 11 October 2017.

The Joseph M. Tronsky XXI Memorial Annual International Conference Indo-European Comparative Linguistics and Classical Philology will be held June 26–28, 2017.

The 13th Conference on Typology and Grammar for Young Scholars was held on 24–26 November 2016. The programme is available.

The international conference Corpus-Based Approaches to the Balkan Languages and Dialects was be held in the Institute for Linguistic Studies RAS (Saint Petersburg, Russia) on December 5–7, 2016. The conference programme is available.

The Joseph M. Tronsky XX Memorial Annual International Conference Indo-European Comparative Linguistics and Classical Philology was held June 20–22, 2016. The proceedings and the program are available.

The 12th Conference on Typology and Grammar for Young Scholars was held in Saint Petersburg, 19–21 November 2015. The conference programme is available.

The international conference “Uralic languages: synchrony and diachrony” was be held on October 15–17, 2015. The abstracts are available.

The Joseph M. Tronsky XIX Memorial Annual International Conference Indo-European Comparative Linguistics and Classical Philology was held June 22–24, 2015. The programme and the proceedings are available.

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Лекции Джоханны Николз

18 ноября, а также 2 и 9 декабря в конференц-зале ИЛИ РАН состоятся лекции заслуженного профессора Калифорнийского университета в Беркли Джоханны Николс (Johanna Nichols). Начало лекций в 16:30.

Расписание лекций

18 ноября, пятница Lexical/inflectional person
2 декабря, пятница Noun-based and verb-based languages
9 декабря, пятница From verb-based to noun-based in Slavic, and implications for causatives and reflexivization

Приглашаются все желающие!

Lexical/inflectional person

Person can be an inflectional category, as in verb-argument agreement or possessive marking of nouns; or it can be a lexical category, as in most IE personal pronouns, which behave syntactically and morphologically like nouns and not like closed classes of inflectional items. The extent to which person is lexical or inflectional can be a revealing typological parameter, and its implications for general morphological and syntactic typology and for language history can be profound. This paper reports results of a worldwide survey of 200+ languages and a 45-item grammatical questionnaire and proposes a long-term areal contact history for western Eurasia.

Noun-based and verb-based languages

In some languages, nouns are mostly basic and verbs derived; in others, vice versa; and some languages are split or mostly flexible. Base part of speech, defined on derivational paradigms, proves to be revealing for deep prehistory and robustly independent of most other typological variables, hence a new arena for typology and an excellent historical tracer. It is entirely separate from the question of whether there exist acategorial words or languages.


To create a consistent, rigorously codable, fine-grained typology, a 60-item wordlist was compiled (from pilot studies on longer lists), lexicosemantically and syntactically diverse and cross-linguistically variable as to base PoS (i.e. excluding words for natural kinds, e. g. ‘raven’, ‘tree’, typologically uninformative because almost always basic nouns; and excluding actions on objects such as ‘strike’, ‘lift’, etc., almost always basic verbs) and surveyed across a worldwide sample of 50 languages (more underway), genealogically and geographically diverse, with a denser survey of several language families. For each item in each language I determine its internal morphological structure and that of derivationally related words, establishing the derivational paradigm of the word; then determine the base of that derivational paradigm and its word class in its underived form (word class judged by the language-specific morphological criteria set out in grammars). Languages can then be typologized by the percent of items whose derivational bases are nouns or verbs (also adjectives, flexible, etc., not discussed here). Families and areas can be typologized by their mean percentages, and by bias calculation (Bickel 2013).

Extreme verb-based languages include Salish languages, where even words for body parts and natural kinds (cross-linguistically usually basic nouns) are nominalized or instrumentalized predicates: e.g. Thompson Salish ‘tongue’ təł-eʔ (predicate: ‘stick out (round flexible object)’), ‘mother’ s-/kíx-zeʔ (nominalized), ‘moon’ máʕ=xe-tn (light:up=foot-INSTR), ‘eagle’ ʔes-/kwl-oʔ=qin (predicate: STAT-yellow=LEX:SUFF:‘head’) (Thompson 1996). Similarly Wakashan and Iroquoian languages. An extreme noun-based language is Lezgi (Nakh-Daghestanian), where simplex verbs are a closed class and even events and agentive actions (cross-linguistically usually basic verbs) are light verb constructions based on nouns: ‘cough’ ühu jaghun (cough strikes), ‘fly’ luw gun (wing give), ‘push’ rum gun (push give), ‘know’ čir xun (knowledge comes) (Talibov 1992). Similarly Hausa (Chadic).


Typological correlations are few: verb-based with head marking, polysynthesis, and perhaps exocentric compounds; noun-based with light verb constructions and converbial chaining. Independent of base types, a number of individual lexemes can be identified as cross-linguistically preferring verb-based or noun-based derivation (e.g. body parts mostly noun-based, but ‘tooth’ commonly verb-based). Base PoS is quite stable in families and diffuses slowly but regularly in areas. Consequently there are large-scale geographical correlations: eastern Siberia and (especially) North America are mostly verb-based, western Eurasia (especially Southwest Asia) noun-based. Most interesting are the historical implications. Lexical stability is type-specific: words of the dominant base type (verbs in verb-based languages, nouns in noun-based languages) are diachronically more stable, the opposite type less stable. Using this finding I suggest likely and unlikely sisters for Indo-European and geographical origins for some Eurasian families, and show how typological stratification in base PoS over large areas might be used to track the history of language movements.

  • Bickel, Balthasar. 2013. Distributional biases in language families. In Balthasar Bickel et al., eds., Language Typology and Historical Contingency, 415-444. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Talibov, Bukar Bekirovich. 1992. Russko-lezginskij slovar’. Maxachkala: Daguchpedgiz.
  • Thompson, Laurence C. and M. Terry Thompson. 1996. Sketch of Thompson, a Salishan language. Ives Goddard, ed., Handbook of North American Indians: Languages, 609-643. Washington: Smithsonian.
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