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date: 20 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Linguistic typology is a research program that aims to describe and understand linguistic variation, distinguishing between properties which are shared across languages for historical reasons and properties shared for other reasons to do with ‘the nature of language.’ The preferred method is comparison of very large numbers of languages, sampled so as to control for genealogical and areal biases. The preferred mode of explanation is in terms of functional rather than formal notions. This chapter discusses the history of the research program, from Greenbergian universals to the present-day greater focus on probabilistic correlations between linguistic properties, with particular attention given to areal features. Some problems and shortcomings of this generally very successful research program are discussed, including problems of methodology and use of data, with special focus on its flagship WALS database. The relation between typology and generative linguistics and their relation to universal grammar is discussed.

Keywords: universals, large scale comparison, areal features, WALS, null subjects, linguistic categories, functional, formal

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