Universals of reference in discourse and grammar: Evidence from the Multi-CAST collection of spoken corpora

Date
2021
Authors
Haig, Geoffrey
Schnell, Stefan
Schiborr, Nils Norman
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
University of Hawai'i Press
Abstract
Data from under-researched languages are now available in sufficient quantity and quality to feed into corpus-based approaches to language typology. In this paper we present Multi-CAST (Multilingual Corpus of Annotated Spoken Texts), a project designed to facilitate cross-linguistic comparison of naturalistic discourse across typologically diverse languages, which implements a purpose-built shared annotation scheme. After sketching the rationale and architecture of Multi-CAST, we illustrate the efficacy of the method with two case-studies: The first one investigates the rates of lexical (as opposed to pronominal and zero) realization of arguments in discourse across a sample of 15 typologically diverse languages. Our results reveal a remarkable and hitherto unnoticed uniformity in the density of lexical references, despite the lack of content control in the corpora. The second addresses the question of whether cross-linguistically attested regularities in morphosyntax can meaningfully be related to frequency effects in discourse. We find some support for frequency-based explanations, but our data also show that the frequency accounts leave several key questions unanswered. Overall, our findings underscore that research based on language documentation-derived corpus data, and in particular spoken language data, is not only possible, but in fact crucially necessary for testing frequency-based explanations, because these data stem from spoken language and typologically diverse languages. We also identify a number of epistemological and methodological shortcomings with our approach, and discuss some of the requirements for further innovation in areas of corpus building, corpus annotation, and typological comparability.
Description
Keywords
corpus-based typology, universals of language use, discourse structure, referential choice, marking asymmetries
Citation
Haig, Geoffrey & Schnell, Stefan & Schiborr, Nils N. 2021. Universals of reference in discourse and grammar: Evidence from the Multi-CAST collection of spoken corpora. In Haig, Geoffrey & Schnell, Stefan & Seifart, Frank (eds.), Doing corpus-based typology with spoken language data: State of the art, 141–177. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press.
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