Each course takes place over four days and is approximately five hours. Tuition fees include all courses.

Balthasar Bickel
University of Zurich

Linguistic biases in biological perspective

While much progress has been made in linking universal biases in linguistic structure to internal mechanisms of language change and use, in this course we will review recent work that extends the explanatory scope beyond language itself.  We will discuss proposals to explain specific distributional biases in terms of properties of the human brain and the speech/sign apparatus. We will address the methodological challenges of such work and its implications for probing the phylogeny and ontogeny of language as part of a wider interdisciplinary undertaking.


Holger Diessel
University of Jena

The Grammar Network: How linguistic structure is shaped by language use

There is a long tradition in linguistics to conceive of grammar as a self-contained, deductive system consisting of primitive categories and algorithmic rules that are analyzed with any consideration of how language is used and processed. This tradition has been challenged, however, by usage-based linguists and psychologists who have argued that grammar is best understood as a dynamic network in which linguistic categories are constantly restructured and reorganized under the influence of language use.

In this class, we will consider the dynamic network approach to the study of grammar from a cross-linguistic perspective (Diessel 2019). Specifically, we will be concerned with recent network analyses of grammatical word class systems, constituent structure, case marking, argument structure and word order. Combing research from typology with research in psycholinguistics, the class explores how domain general processes of social cognition, conceptualization and memory shape the linguistic system. One aspect that will be of particular importance is the effect of frequency on usage and development. The class provides an introduction into the network model of grammar and emphasizes the importance of general research in cognitive psychology for the cross-linguistic study of language.


Nicholas R. Evans
Australian National University, Canberra/ ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

The grammar of others: social cognition and linguistic diversity

This course will explore the fundamental communicative domain of social cognition and its extremely variable realization across the grammars of the world’s languages. By social cognition is meant the sum of all cognitive and affective processes needed to live in a world of other social beings, and hominid advances in social cognition are increasingly recognised as the fundamental change which underlay the human capacity to evolve language. At the same time, it is a domain prone to great cross-cultural variation in terms of what categories get grammaticalised, and in their frequency of use.

Elements to be examined in the course include the conversational nexus (exchange of speaker/hearer roles; footing; the deictic field; attention and engagement), relationships between entities in the social world (kinship, group membership, possession), the social ramifications of events (benefit, agency, volitionality, reciprocity), inner worlds of the self and others (beliefs, intentions, etc.), and the relevance of personal histories (who has done what before), as well as the various interactions between these elements. In addition to standard methods in typology and linguistic anthropology I will draw on material from a semi-parallel corpus study of 25 languages from all continents.


Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena/ Leipzig University

Some universals of grammar with particular reference to coding asymmetries

In this course, I will highlight and discuss the insights about Human Language coming from the Greenbergian research programme of searching for universal trends in language structures. Linguists have tried to derive general insights from individual languages, or from the behaviour of individual speakers (e.g. in psycholinguistics), but I will argue that ultimately, all this research must be rooted in an understanding of cross-linguistic trends if it is to help us understand languages. I will also discuss the proposal that cross-linguistic generalizations are mostly derived from trends of language change (Cristofaro 2019), and throughout my lectures, I will focus on grammatical coding asymmetries (differential marking and “markedness asymmetries”).


Sabine Stoll
University of Zurich

Language development: uniformity in diversity?

Understanding how language is learned is one of the main prerequisites for understanding the transmission of languages over extended time. In other words, it is an important cornerstone in understanding evolutionary processes in language. In this course we will discuss the different challenges posed by typologically very diverse languages. We will review recent work that probes for similar features in widely differing languages and aims at charting how specific features influence the learning process.