Categories in Grammar – Criteria and Limitations


Workshop at Freie Universität Berlin


Date:                          2nd – 4th July 2015


Organizers:               Horst Simon & Christian Forche (Freie Universität Berlin)


Invited presentations:        Peter Auer (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)

                                          Hans C. Boas (University of Texas at Austin)

                                          Greville G. Corbett (University of Surrey)

                                          Gisbert Fanselow & Jana Häussler (Universität Potsdam)

                                          Olga Fischer (Universiteit van Amsterdam)

                                          Manfred Krifka (Humboldt-Universität Berlin & ZAS, Berlin)



Workshop Description

One of the basic operations in every scientific endeavour is to analyze and then categorize the data under study. In this workshop we wish to take the opportunity to reflect on this particular activity and its products in linguistic research.

A major task of the grammarian is to devise well-defined criteria for classification and to come to grips with pieces of data that cannot be easily assigned to any category. It may even turn out that a neat (binary) classification is unattainable on principle – researchers emphasizing this point will resort to grammatical models involving prototypes, blurry boundaries or some other device.

Issues of categorization arise in the analysis of all kinds of grammatical elements (albeit not always to the same degree): e.g. phonological segments, morphological features, inflection classes, word classes, clauses, semantic classes, etc.


Questions to be discussed in this workshop include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • What criteria can we use to define categories in grammar? E.g., to what extent do semantic criteria play a role in (morpho)syntax?

  • Are all levels of grammar alike? E.g., is morphology different from suprasegmental phonology with regard to categoricity?

  • What is the relationship between categories and scales/hierarchies?

  • How can gradualness be modeled?

  • If we use non-discrete categories, how do we prevent arbitrariness of classification? How do grammatical rules operate on non-discrete lower-level entities?

  • What is the role of analogy in language structure? E.g., what is the basis of similarities between elements of a category?

  • Do written and spoken language share all the same categories? E.g., how do we integrate the syntax of spoken language into our modeling?

  • How are categories acquired in first (and second) language acquisition?

  • What is the psychological reality of grammatical categories in the minds of speakers? Are there neural substrates?

  • How do new categories emerge diachronically? How are they lost?

  • Are some categories universal?


With this workshop, we wish to instigate conversations about some fundamentals of grammatical research, involving grammarians working in a variety of research traditions and in different grammatical models. We particularly invite papers that advance our theoretical understanding of the notion of categories in grammar. Methodologically oriented papers focusing on particular case studies (on any grammatical phenomenon in any language) are also welcome.