Adjacent Events

August 28-29, 2010. Leipzig

"Referential hierarchy effects on the morphosyntax of verbal arguments" is a cross CRP-Workshop with the EuroBABEL project Ob-Ugric Languages and participants from other CRPs.

This event, as part of the European Science Foundation EUROCORES Programme EuroBABEL, was supported by funds from AHRC, AKA, DASTI, DFG, ESRC, FWF, NWO, NSF, OTKA and SNSF.


External (non-CRP) participants are welcome to attend the talks.

If you plan to attend the workshop, please register by sending an e-mail to Robert Schikowski (schikowski at

The registration begins at 8:15. The registration fee for all external participants is 5 euro.


For any questions, please contact Robert Schikowski (schikowski at

Meeting description

Referential hierarchies are a standard way of capturing limitations on the morphosyntactic behaviour of arguments. It has long been hypothesized that a grammatical relation is marked (morphologically or structurally) when its referent is not expected to occur in that relation. Thus, for instance, low-ranking As and high-ranking Ps are both more likely to get marked than high-ranking As and low-ranking Ps. Referential hierarchies have been the subject of discussion ever since they were for the first time explicitly proposed by Silverstein (1976) and Comrie (1981). There is now a large body of research on questions such as which factors play a role in setting up hierarchies, how these factors are interrelated and why referential hierarchies do exist. However, the present understanding of hierarchies is incomplete in two important respects. One problem is that theories often fail to precisely define their scope (Bickel 2008, Bickel & Witzlack-Makarevich 2008): are the proposed hierarchies universal or probabilistic? Do they concern all kinds of grammatical relations or only those defined by certain morphosyntactic categories, e.g. case but not agreement? Is there one universal scale or are there several? Is the nature of specific hierarchy-based effects governed by universal principles or areal diffusion or both? The second problem is a serious lack of empirical research as opposed to a wealth of theoretical work and hypothesis generation. In our experience we find that work on additional languages tends to challenge and often undermine universalist theories, and this suggests that there is high need in expanding our empirical purview. The RHIM CRP was set up to address these two issues.

At the initial stage of the project it became clear that the interests of RHIM are in particularly close correspondence with those of the OUL (Ob-Ugric Languages) CRP because referential hierarchy effects are at the very core of Ugric morphosyntax. When we realised the potential for scientific exchange between the OUL and RHIM projects, the idea came up to organise a common workshop in 2010. In addition, it became clear during the launch conference that the languages studied in the KBA (Kalahari Basin area) and the AP (Alor-Pantar) CRPs also display interesting and analytically challenging referential hierarchy effects in the morphosyntax of arguments — although possibly to a minor extent compared to what we find in the RHIM and OUL languages. Thus, the workshop will host talks primarily from OUL and RHIM members, but enriched by one contribution each from the KBA and AP teams.


Bickel, B., 2008. On the scope of the referential hierarchy in the typology of grammatical relations. In Corbett, G. G. & M. Noonan (eds.) Case and grammatical relations, 191–210. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Bickel, B. & A. Witzlack-Makarevich, 2008. Referential scales and case alignment: reviewing the typological evidence. In Malchukov, A. & M. Richards (eds.) Scales, 1–37. Leipzig: Institut für Linguistik.

Comrie, B., 1981. Language universals and linguistic typology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Silverstein, M., 1976. Hierarchy of features and ergativity. In Dixon, R. M. W. (ed.) Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages, 112–171. New Jersey: Humanities Press.