Language and Computation foundational course:
Case, Scrambling and Default Word Order.

  • Miriam Butt ()
  • Heike Zinsmeister ()

Course material: 01-CaseScramblingWordOrder_reader.pdf 02-Mueller1999.pdf 03-Mueller2002.pdf 04-BresnanEtAL2007.pdf 05-Evert2006.pdf 06-LuedelingEvertBaroni2007.pdf 07-Meurers2005.pdf 08-BaderHaeussler.pdf 09-CahillForstRohrer2007.pdf 10-FilippovaStrube2007.pdf 11-Forst2007.pdf 12-Keller2000.pdf 13-PatilEtAl2008.pdf 14-SchulteImWalde2002.pdf


Many of the world's languages are so-called "free word order" languages, whereby the major arguments of a clause can be scrambled quite freely. This scrambling generally goes hand-in-hand with a robust case marking system and some means of verb-argument agreement (usually verb-subject agreement, but not always), which allows the identification of the various arguments of the clause (i.e., which is the agent, the patient, the goal, etc.). Sometimes, however, the correct identification of which syntactic argument encodes which of the semantic participants of a verb/clause can only be achieved by world or contextual knowledge. Additionally, effects of so-called word order freezing can be observed, whereby suddenly the word order is not free, but is fixed if one wants a certain mapping of semantic participants to syntactic arguments. Finally, one generally also refers to a "default word order" exhibited by languages which in principle allow for the (more-or-less) free scrambling of syntactic arguments. The theoretical status of this default word order is not clear and this course will examine the topic of argument scrambling, word order freezing and default word order with respect to two main perspectives: 1) theoretical linguistics; 2) corpus linguistics.

With respect to the theoretical perspective, students will be introduced to current theories of case and word order so that we can examine what (if anything) these theories have to say about default word order and word order freezing in particular. With respect to the computational perspective, we will examine to what degree information from corpora can help guide the analysis and help us understand why things are scrambled when they are scrambled and what status the "default word order" actually has in terms of frequency and distribution. As part of the course (one day), we will also present psycholinguistic studies that identify (combinations of) features that determine word order preferences.