UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Resolving Conflicts Across Borders Conference 2017

Resolving Conflicts Across Borders Conference 2017, like the Agreement ABC 2015 (Zadar) and the Ellipsis ABC 2016 (Sarajevo) that preceded it, is organized as part of the project Experimental Morphosyntax of South Slavic languages, where agreement patterns are studied with a uniform methodology in six locations across the Western Balkans. This project has both a scientific and social agenda. On one side, it aims to investigate First and Last conjunct agreement in South Slavic languages and thus contribute to the currently debated topic (Bošković 2009, Marušič et al. 2015) which revolves around the need for clearer descriptions of the data. On the other side, the project aims to propagate psycholinguistic studies of South Slavic languages through cooperation between linguists across the borders of the former Yugoslavia.

One of the areas where conflict resolution is very clearly observed is agreement. As a syntactic operation it is best understood when it operates between a probe and a goal (or between a target and a controller) that carries a single set of features, which can be easily identified and copied to the probe/target. However, goals/controllers don't always have a single gender or number feature that could be shared with the probe/target. For example, when two noun phrases of different (or conflicting) genders are conjoined, verb cannot agree with both of them at the same time (unless it is a case of syncretism). This "conflict" can be resolved in a number of ways. For conjunct agreement three strategies have been observed across languages: verb agrees with only one of the two conjuncts, verb shows default value for agreement, verb agrees with the "winner" of the conflict, i.e. with the resolved value. Frameworks such as Optimality Theory, LFG, and Construction Grammar all may have potentially different approaches to how this conflict resolution is grammatically specified, and we contend that it is important to compare and contrast what these approaches have in common and where they differ in predictions.

Similar conflicts do not occur only with coordinations, a single noun phrase can have two conflicting gender or number features, e.g. words like "team" are morphosyntactically singular, but semantically plural, while words like "scissors" are morphosyntactically plural, while semantically singular or plural (can be used for a single entity, a single pair of scissors). Similarly the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian noun ‘budala’ (idiot) is morphosyntactically feminine, but can easily denote male individuals in which case it is semantically masculine. Still within the realm of phi-features, conflicts arise in free relative configurations (Groos & van Riemsdijk 1981), where a relative pronoun cannot simultaneously realize two different cases one assigned from the main clause and the other assigned from inside the relative clause. These are again merely illustrative examples of the crosscutting issue, important to all theories of language computation, of how lexical mismatches between syntax and semantics arise and are resolved in specific configurations, and on which many distinct approaches to language structure can shed light, particularly with comparison across domains.

In fact, conflict resolution occurs also in many other areas of grammar. In principle every interaction of more than one grammatical element has potential to result in a conflict that needs some kind of resolution (where one of the grammatical principles wins over the other). We wish to cross the borders traditionally bounding research on conflict resolution and bring together both theoreticians and experimentalists conducting research on phenomena where conflict resolution is observed, not only in syntax but also on the interfaces, e.g. syntax-phonology interface, syntax-morphology interface (deponency), syntax-semantics interface, phonology-morphology interface, and at the information structure – phonology interface. In addition to identifying the domains in which conflict resolution occurs, of equal interest are the architectural mechanisms for deciding among alternative outputs, a process that finds resonance in closely related domains such as music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff 1983).

With this broad set of approaches in mind, we invite submission of clearly written and theoretically innovative abstracts for talks on topics on conflict resolution in all areas of theoretical linguistics (across any theory), comparative linguistics, typological linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, language acquisition, and clinical linguistics.

RCAB Invited speakers:

- Eulàlia Bonet (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) - http://filcat.uab.cat/clt/membres/professors/bonet.html

- Greville G. Corbett (University of Surrey) - http://www.surrey.ac.uk/englishandlanguages/staff_list/complete_staff_list/greville_g_corbett/

- Ray Jackendoff (Tufts University) - http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/jackendoff/

Click HERE to submit an abstract.