From: Johannes Helmbrecht <johannes.helmbrechtsprachlit.uni-regensburg.de>
Subject: The Grammar of Proper Names - A Typological Perspective
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Full Title: The Grammar of Proper Names - A Typological Perspective
Date: 07-Oct-2010 - 08-Oct-2010
Location: Regensburg, Germany
Contact Person: Johannes Helmbrecht
Meeting Email: johannes.helmbrechtsprachlit.uni-regensburg.de
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics; Typology
Call Deadline: 31-Mar-2010
International conference on the 'Grammar of Proper Names - A Typological
Perspective' to be held at the University of Regensburg, Germany on October, 7-8
Second Call for Papers
Dimitry Idiatov (University of Antwerp; confirmed)
Mark van de Velde (Paris CNRS; confirmed),
Willy Van Langendonck (Katholike Universiteit Leuven; confirmed)
Background and Goals of the conference
Proper names are perhaps a universal class of expressions. The typical and most
important members of this class are anthroponyms, i.e. names that refer to human
individuals and toponyms, i.e. names that refer to distinct places. They are
lexical units of various morphological and syntactic complexity, i.e. they may
be single lexical morphemes, morphological complex words, or multiword syntactic
constructions. The morphosyntactic behavior of proper names deviates
significantly from that of other syntactic categories such as common nouns and
personal pronouns. Within the noun phrase proper names show various
distributional restrictions compared to common nouns.
On the other hand, they have usually more distributional possibilities than e.g.
personal pronouns. In addition, proper names often exhibit deviations with
regard to the coding of the core grammatical relations within the clause. For
instance, proper names may show different case marking patterns compared to
common nouns and personal pronouns. Furthermore, one can find specific
morphological categories such as the vocative case and the proper name marker in
the languages of the world, which are more or less confined to proper names as a
Given these facts, it is astonishing that proper names are a largely neglected
topic of research in linguistic typology. The reasons for this ignorance may
have to do with the semantic peculiarities of proper names and with a remarkable
lack of data and morphosyntactic information on proper names in descriptive
grammars. The meaning of proper names is often considered as purely pragmatic
(i.e. referential), a view that is certainly influenced by the philosophical
debates on names (e.g. Kripke). If they have no conventionalized form-meaning
relation, they are less interesting as a topic of typological research. However,
it is easy to show that proper names have semantic content, e.g. they may
indicate the sex of the name bearer. If descriptive grammars deal with proper
names at all, they are often simply presented as a kind of subclass of common
nouns without any specific investigation of their morphosyntactic properties.
Since descriptive grammars are the prime data source for typologists, proper
names remain a difficult topic for cross-linguistic comparison.
The descriptive and comparative research on proper names may have also an impact
on more general and theoretical questions in typology:
1) It is a tacit assumption that proper names are a universal class of
expressions. However, it remains to be shown or to be falsified that this is
so. It is a theoretical possibility that there are languages without a lexical
class of proper names. How could a language without proper names look like?
2) Secondly, descriptive grammars as well as typological research on
parts-of-speech systems (e.g. Croft, Langacker, Hopper/ Thompson and others)
notoriously disagree on the question how to classify proper names. Are they
rather prototypical (cf. Van Langendonck) or rather non-prototypical (cf.
Langacker, Croft) members of the syntactic category noun, or are they rather
indexical expressions and hence closer to personal pronouns (Andersons)? The
research on proper names will have an impact on the wider theory of parts of
speech, perhaps central positions in current theories of parts of speech have to
3) And thirdly, many versions of the animacy hierarchy (alternatively: empathy
hierarchy, agentivity hierarchy) contain proper names and/or kinship terms on a
position between personal pronouns and common nouns designating humans (cf.
Silverstein, Dixon, and others). However, the evidence for the inclusion of
proper names/ kinship terms in the animacy hierarchy is astonishingly thin. The
systematic investigation of peculiarities of the case marking of proper names in
particular with regard to the coding of core grammatical relations will either
confirm or falsify this hypothesis and will cast more empirical light on this
It is the main goal of the proposed conference to address the questions posed
above and to fill the gaps of our linguistic knowledge on proper names in the
languages of the world. Papers that present a descriptive perspective on proper
names in European but also and preferably in non-European languages are as
welcome as papers that deal with the more general typological questions
Abstracts should be submitted no later than March, 31.
Notice of acceptance will be sent out by April, 30.
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