Distributional Typology

Balthasar Bickel

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis

Second edition

Published in print February 2015 | ISBN: 9780199677078
Published online July 2015 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Distributional Typology

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Linguistic Typology


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Over the past two decades, linguistic typology has been moving increasingly away from its original goal of classifying languages into ideal types that would be constrained by categorical universals. What has been emerging as a new paradigm instead starts from the distribution of structures in the world, asking “what’s where why?” I present here a concrete approach to this question, called “Distributional Typology.” The approach starts from causal theories on the forces that affect language change, from processing preferences to the historical contingencies of language contact. The predictions of these theories can then be tested against fine-grained matrices of cross-linguistic diversity, using statistical methods for estimating diachronic trends from synchronic distributions.

Keywords: statistical methods; philosophy of science; typology; universal grammar; areal diffusion; case marking; word order; universals

Article.  10831 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Linguistic Typology

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