About the project

Aims. The project aims to investigate grammatical voice from a functional-typological approach to understand the link between form and meaning. Grammatical voice refers to the mapping of semantic roles of a verb onto grammatical functions. This means that the morphosyntax (form) of a verb and the argument structure (meaning) remain in a close relationship. However, scholars disagree as to whether the relationship between form and meaning is iconically motivated or simply arbitrary.  By adopting an innovative crosslinguistic perspective, we will provide support for the role of iconicity in grammar.

Innovative aspects. The project explores voice in which the A (subject) of transitive clauses is coded like a subject, while the P (object) loses the properties of a core argument. Such voice operation results in various grammatical structures in the world’s languages labeled in this study as ‘P demotion constructions’. These may include but are not limited to antipassives, conative clauses, transitivity discord, noun stripping, and object incorporation. Traditional typological studies have never approached these constructions together as the same phenomenon resulting from P demotion because they are grammaticalized in languages through different linguistic structures. Instead, many studies treated them separately, providing only a fragmentary account of the P demotion operation.  The project offers a new perspective by looking at P demotion constructions together.

Research questions. The project addresses two main research questions: (i) How is the form and meaning related in the P demotion domain? If they correlate, what is the governing principle motivating this correlation? (ii) What is the linguistic diversity of P demotion clauses in the world’s languages based on their formal and functional characteristics? These two will be followed by the secondary questions: (iii) Is it possible to discern any areal, genealogical, or typological patterns in the distribution of P demotion? What generalizations do they yield? (iv) What is the diachronic link between the functional varieties of P demotion constructions?

Methodology. The project bridges the quantitative and qualitative methods to examine P demotion constructions in approximately 80 languages from Africa, Papunesia, North and South America, Eurasia, and Australia. It adopts multivariate typology (Bickel 2010) to describe linguistic diversity of P demotion constructions and ensure crosslinguistic comparability. Based on the hypothesis that different P demotion constructions register different deviations from prototypical functional object properties, the aim of the project is to decompose these constructions into formal and functional properties, focusing on the P objecthood properties in particular. The form-function link will be captured and evaluated in a semantic map, e.g. multidimensional scaling (Croft & Poole 2008).