Current and past projects funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation:
Variability is a characteristic feature of natural language that can be found in various guises: variation between languages or between dialects of the same language; variation among speakers of the same dialect/language (inter-speaker variation); variation within a single individual (intra-speaker variation). Whereas all these types of variation have been extensively studied in areas like phonology or the lexicon, work in syntax has mainly considered the first type of variation only. In particular within formal approaches to syntax, inter-speaker and intra-speaker variation have been neglected for a long time. It is only recently that the interest of these phenomena for formal theories of syntax has been recognized and attempts have been made to reconcile theoretical syntax with variationist approaches of the sociolinguistic kind. The aim of this project is to make a contribution to these endeavours by focusing on syntactic variation in one variety of Swiss German.
This project is divided into two parts. The first part consists of the extension of the empirical basis created in our SNSF project 146450. The main output of that project was a parsed sociolinguistically balanced corpus of approximately 750’000 words of one variety of Swiss German, the variety of Wil (SG). In the meantime, the corpus size has been increased to nearly 900’000 words through non-SNSF funding. In this follow-up project, we will extend the corpus further by transcribing and annotating additional sound files that have been recorded during the period of the first project. This will allow us to increase the size of the corpus to approximately 1.3 million words and thus to obtain a very solid empirical basis for carrying out the second part of the project.
The main part of this project will be dedicated to the analysis of data from the parsed corpus that are relevant for the study of inter- and intra-speaker variation in the syntax. A large number of syntactic areas will be examined that show optionality, i.e. that seem to allow speakers to make a choice between two variants. The areas of variation investigated can be grouped into three main thematic domains: (i) Null arguments (pro-drop, topic-drop); (ii) verbal syntax (Verb Raising and Verb Projection Raising, doubling verbs, periphrastic do, V2 vs. V3 or V-final); (iii) nominal syntax (possessives, article and preposition drop, article doubling, neuter article). In addition, we will explore issues related to the syntax of spoken language.
The corpus data will be analysed from two main perspectives. First, in order to determine to what extent linguistic and non-linguistic factors may influence the use of different variants, we will apply quantitative methods known from work in variationist sociolinguistics to our data. Special attention will be paid to the age variable so as to identify potential interactions between syntactic variation and change. Second, we will explore the issues the different variable phenomena and their quantitative patterns raise from the point of view of current syntactic theory. Overall, the aim will be to gain a better understanding of the nature of syntactic inter- and intra-speaker variation.