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Lessons from "Anomalies": Systemic Motivation in Grammar

Farrell Ackerman, UCSD

February 3, 2014
AP&M 4301

Descriptive grammarians and typologists often encounter unusual constructions or unfamiliar
variants of otherwise familiar construction types. Many of these phenomena are puzzling
from the perspective of linguistic theories: they neither predict these “anomalies” nor provide
the tools to insightfully describe them. In this talk I will analyze an unusual type of relative
clause found in numerous related and unrelated languages of Eurasia. I will argue that an
understanding of this construction requires exploring the (type of) grammar system in which
it occurs in order to identify the (set of) independent constructions that motivate its existence.
I will, additionally, argue that the resulting insights into grammar organization illustrate the
usefulness of a construction-theoretic syntax and morphology informed by a developmental
systems perspective for the understanding of complex phenomena.