Lectures on Biolinguistics
Speaker: Professor Kleanthes K. Grohmann (University of Cyprus & Cyprus Acquisition Team)
Place: Room 313 (College of International Studies, SWU)
December 4 (pm3:00):
Biolinguistics: Foundations, Developments, and Challenges
In a nutshell, biolinguistics is concerned with exploring the “biological foundations of language” (to piggy-back on the eponymous book title of Lenneberg 1967). This may mean different things to different linguists, and even to different scientists from other disciplines. The goal of this lecture is to bring the biolinguistic program closer by looking at the ontological foundations of biolinguistics and opening up said nutshell a little. The centerpiece of this lecture will be a comprehensive discussion of the five ‘foundational questions’ (Boeckx & Grohmann 2007, in the wake of Chomsky 1986), thereby putting the notion of ‘knowledge of language’ in its historico-philosophical and modern scientific perspectives. Thus equipped with the reasoning behind the ‘generative enterprise’, the relationship between the five questions and Tinbergen’s (1963) characterization of the aims and methods of ethology will be discussed. The final part of the lecture surveys six decades of research into the faculty of language and brings some pertinent questions concerning the nature of Universal Grammar to the forefront, including recent and ongoing developments, which ultimately lead to present-day research concerns and challenges for the near future (e.g. Berwick & Chomsky 2016). This will be scrutinized further in the next four lectures.
December 5 (am9:00):
The Socio-Syntax of Language Development
December 5 (pm3:00):
(Discrete) Bilectalism and Comparative Multilingualism
Cyprus is in a unique position for many purposes and for many reasons. These two lectures will present the research agenda of the Cyprus Acquisition Team (CAT). They thus aim to bring closer the potential impact this confined geographical space has on issues pertaining to language acquisition and subsequent development from a variety of perspectives, of imminent relevance for any study of multilingualism: bilectal Greek Cypriot children, multilingual children from multicultural family backgrounds, and children with atypical, even impaired, language development. Two main concepts will be introduced and pursued: the Socio-Syntax of Development Hypothesis (Grohmann 2011) and the notion of gradience in multilingualism, dubbed Comparative Multilingualism (Grohmann 2014). The former takes the local linguistic variety, Cypriot Greek, seriously as the native language of Greek Cypriot children. Due to the sociolinguistic state of diglossia, children not only grow up with this unofficial, non-codified Low variety but also with the High variety: Standard Modern Greek, one of the island’s two official languages (and that of Greece). At CAT, we developed the notion of ‘(discrete) bilectalism’ to characterize speakers in such diglossic environments (Rowe & Grohmann 2013, 2014). Our research, in particular on object clitic placement, further suggests that bilectal children undergo refinements in their grammatical system after the critical period for first language acquisition, that is, even beyond the age of 5. One of the most predominant factors here is schooling, which falls within what we call socio-syntactic developments of language. The larger picture is one that places bilectalism on a gradient scale of multilingualism, which ranges from monolectal, monolingual speakers to multilectal, multilingual speakers across further differentiations such as bidialectalism, bivarietalism, bilectalism, and different degrees of bilingualism (Grohmann & Kambanaros 2016). Our research also suggests that this scale can be compared to performance in both receptive and expressive language tasks as well as cognitive tasks tapping into executive control.
December 6 (am9:00):
Language Pathology, the Faculty of Language, and Universal Grammar
December 6 (pm3:00):
The Locus Preservation Hypothesis
The final set of lectures sets the agenda and then illustrates with different research studies from CAT. Universal Grammar (UG) denotes the species-specific faculty of language, presumed to be invariant across individuals. Over the years, it has shrunk from a full-blown set of principles and parameters to a much smaller set of properties, possibly as small as just containing the linguistic structure-building operation Merge, which in turn derives the uniquely human language property of recursion (Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch 2002). UG qua human faculty of language is further assumed to constitute the “optimal solution to minimal design specifications” (Chomsky 2001: 1), a perfect system for language. Unfortunately, the human system or physiology does not always run perfectly smooth in an optimal fashion. There are malfunctions, misformations, and other aberrations throughout. The language system is no exception. The first part of this lecture will present language pathology from the perspective of the underlying system (Tsimpli, Kambanaros & Grohmann 2017): What can non-intact language tell us about UG? Particular emphasis will be put on evidence from Greek, and how the investigation of impaired (cognitive-) linguistic abilities from one language can inform the study at large — and how it can (not) shed light on the study of a(n impaired) language faculty. The parentheses just employed may give an indication to the kinds of questions (and answers?) to be expected. The second lecture showcases representative research from our team, building on current research (Leivada, Kambanaros & Grohmann 2017 and more).
Kleanthes K. Grohmann is Professor of Biolinguistics in the Department of English Studies at the University of Cyprus (UCY) and the Director of CAT, the Cyprus Acquisition Team (CAT Lab). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland (2000) and has published widely in the areas of syntactic theory, comparative syntax, language acquisition, impaired language, and multilingualism. Among the books he has written and (co-)edited are Understanding Minimalism (with N. Hornstein and J. Nunes, 2005, CUP), InterPhases (2009, OUP), and The Cambridge Handbook of Biolinguistics (with Cedric Boeckx, 2013, CUP). He is founding co-editor of the John Benjamins book series Language Faculty and Beyond and editor of the open-access journal Biolinguistics.