CRC 1412/1: Disentangling Cross-Linguistic and Language-Specific Aspects of Register Variation (SP A06)

This project aims at investigating cross-linguistically manifested aspects of register, which are supposed to be reflexes of universal communicative behaviour, differentiating them from idiosyncratic language-specific register variation. The study will focus on grammatical means of information packaging that are likely to be register-sensitive. In particular, we will investigate word order variation and variation in referential expressions as dependent on properties of the communicative situation. For instance, certain non-canonical word orders (depending on the potential of a particular grammar) seem to be especially employed in informal registers, resulting from a greater adaptation to interactional needs. Hence, information structural devices reducing syntactic compactness, such as right-dislocations or certain fronting operations, are expected to occur more frequently (across languages) in registers of spontaneous speech. On the other hand, syntactic variation can also show an arbitrary and conventionalised variant-register relation, which is expected to be language-specific, e.g. in French wh-in-situ is restricted to informal language (Adli, 2015).
Cross-linguistic questions regarding general mechanisms of register variation have been addressed only rarely (e.g. in Biber, 1995). Especially smaller and less researched languages do not figure prominently in register research. This project will address both research gaps and investigate and compare register variation in three typologically diverse languages with widely different socio-cultural situations and research histories, namely German, Persian, and Yucatec Maya. A leading question will be whether languages with large distance between registers, possibly on a par with diglossia (e.g., Persian) are more prone to develop idiosyncratic form-register associations than languages with less pronounced registers (e.g., Yucatec Maya). In addition to the investigation of existing corpora we will build parallel materials in the three languages collected by the same methods, namely spontaneous speech recordings in different communicative settings, judgements on the appropriateness of syntactic variants in specific situative contexts, as well as a situative classification task (with certain parallels to the matched guise technique). For these controlled parallel studies, we will focus on two register parameters, which have been proven relevant in register studies in many languages, namely distance between the interlocutors (linked to formality) and modality (written vs. spoken). We will measure to what extent (a) the conditional probability of particular syntactic variants depends on register and (b) speakers are aware of the association of certain variants with particular types of situative contexts. In order to analyse intra-speaker variation and compare production and perception data, all participants will take part in the full design, i.e. recorded in the different settings and participate in judgement studies, both in auditory and in written modality.
The findings of this project will contribute to the central question of the CRC concerning the role of register variation in grammar (Area A). In particular, this project will add findings from different language situations (from diglossia in Persian to incipient written-spoken variation in Yucatec Maya) to the discussion. The types of phenomena we are dealing with involve differences in the frequency of constructions that are available across registers. The crucial question in syntactic instances of variation is to identify the layer of variation: is the observed variation between registers due to differences at the level of expression (e.g. likelihood of dropping uniquely identifiable subjects), or due to differences at the functional level (e.g. likelihood of uniquely identifiable subjects)? Given these two layers of variation, the interplay between register and information structural context in determining the occurrence of syntactic variants will play a central role.

Principal Investigators
Verhoeven, Elisabeth Prof. Dr. (Details) (General Linguistics)

Duration of Project
Start date: 01/2020
End date: 12/2023

Research Areas
General and Comparative Linguistics, Typology, Non-European Languages

Research Areas
Pragmatik, Soziolinguistik, Syntax, Typologie

Last updated on 2021-22-07 at 16:14