Lisa Travis was at McMaster last week, where she gave a talk as part of the Cognitive Science of Language Lecture Series. The title of her talk was “Macro- and micro-parameters within and across language families.”

Abstract: Languages vary in large and in small ways, and linguists can undertake macro-comparative work (e.g. comparing English and Mohawk) or micro-comparative work (e.g. comparing Northern Italian dialects). Often macro-comparative work is done across language families with the goal of uncovering macro-parameters while micro-comparative work is done within a language family with the goal of uncovering micro-parameters. In this research, I undertake micro-comparative work across language families (Austronesian and Mayan) to better understand a possible macro-parameter (VP-fronting). More specifically, I hypothesize that the co-occurrence of clefting wh-construction with V-initial languages can be explained through a macro-parameter of VP-fronting, explaining both V-initial word order and predicate fronting in clefting constructions. Within this macroparametric study, I investigate the status of clefting structure in an SVO language (Bahasa Indonesia) and micro-variation within the clefted structures comparing two dialects of Malagasy, an Austronesian language, to Kaqchikel, a Mayan language. The goal is to understand some of the details of these clefting structures that allow them to be reanalyzed leading to different setting in the macro-parameter. I argue that it is the status of the clefting particle that allows shifts in the syntactic interpretation of the structure leading to different choices in the macro-parameter.