- Sprachliche Universalien (2) (remove)
- Absolute and statistical universals (2007)
- Language universals are statements that are true of all languages, for example: “all languages have stop consonants”. But beneath this simple definition lurks deep ambiguity, and this triggers misunderstanding in both interdisciplinary discourse and within linguistics itself. A core dimension of the ambiguity is captured by the opposition “absolute vs. statistical universal”, although the literature uses these terms in varied ways. Many textbooks draw the boundary between absolute and statistical according to whether a sample of languages contains exceptions to a universal. But the notion of an exception-free sample is not very revealing even if the sample contained all known languages: there is always a chance that an as yet undescribed language, or an unknown language from the past or future, will provide an exception.
- A general method for the statistical evaluation of typological distributions (2008)
- The distribution of linguistic structures in the world is the joint product of universal principles, inheritance from ancestor languages, language contact, social structures, and random fluctuation. This paper proposes a method for evaluating the relative significance of each factor — and in particular, of universal principles — via regression modeling: statistical evidence for universal principles is found if the odds for families to have skewed responses (e.g. all or most members have postnominal relative clauses) as opposed to having an opposite response skewing or no skewing at all, is significantly higher for some condition (e.g. VO order) than for another condition, independently of other factors.