פעילות מחקרית

ISF Malka Rappaport Hovav 2022-2025

Shifts in lexicalization patterns: Hebrew as a test case

The aim of this project is to carry out the first broad-ranged in-depth study of the shift in lexicalization patterns of Hebrew, with a systematic examination of the relevant aspects of the language in (i) the ancient stages when the language was spoken; (ii) Early Modern Hebrew and Modern Hebrew; and (iii) the stages of Pre-Modern Hebrew most likely to have influenced the language when it was revived as a spoken language. Hebrew has traditionally been classified as a V-framed language, but recent studies distinguish between Biblical Hebrew, classified as V-framed, and Modern Hebrew, documented as containing clear S-framed constructions. This suggests that Hebrew is undergoing a typological shift; the significance of the shift is that it is in the opposite direction of the only carefully documented case of a large scale shift in lexicalization patterns –from S-framed Latin to V-framed Romance languages.
Current studies recognize that the current two- or three-way classifications prevalent in the literature do not give rise to crisp boundaries. A theory of lexicalization patterns that will explicate the connection between the underlying grammatical factors – lexical and compositional - and specific lexicalization configurations, and explain which properties cluster together in languages. A language which changes its lexicalization profile can serve as a test case for such theories since a successful theory will predict which phenomena change together and in what order. Indeed, the factors leading to the Romance shift and the stages the languages went through are the subject of intensive research because of the light they shed on the nature of lexicalization patterns, the nature of the interface between lexical semantics and syntax and processes of grammaticalization. The changing profile of Hebrew in the reverse direct is still underway, and preliminary evidence shows that it is a staggered process; this staggered pattern needs to be accounted for. Hebrew affords a unique opportunity to document the shift in mid-process. The research will be based on in-depth study of historical and current corpora.
The question of whether the shift was the result of endogenous historical development or the result of contact with S-framed languages Modern Hebrew was in contact with as it developed (Russian and Yiddish in its earlier stages and English in more current stages) or a combination of the two will be addressed. Thus the research will be of significance to theories of language change, language contact, the lexicon-syntax interface and the emergence of Modern Hebrew.

Emergence and Change in Modality: Evidence from Hebrew

Aynat Rubinstein, ISF 2019-2022

This project challenges the centrality of pragmatic inferencing as a driving force of language change in modality. I argue that a combination of theoretical and empirical considerations motivate a shift from pragmatic to semantic explanation of change in this domain, providing novel support for recent groundbreaking proposals that were based on diachronic changes observed in other linguistic domains (Beck, 2012; Beck & Gergel, 2015; Condoravdi & Deo, 2014; Deo, 2015). Initial theoretical motivation for this idea comes from re-evaluation of key examples from the literature on English and other languages, showing the pragmatic inferencing is both unnecessary and insufficient as an explanation of change in this domain. The project’s empirical focus is on historical changes in modality in Hebrew over the past 130 years, from the time of its revival as a language with native speakers until the present day.



The Archaeology of The Mind Lab 

Prof. Orly Goldwasser



מעבדת ArchaeoMind של האוניברסיטה העברית מוקדשת לחקר ארגון הידע של תרבויות שונות, בעבר ובהווה. 

המקורות אותם אנו מנתחים הם מערכות מיון הקיימות בכתבים ובלשונות ברחבי העולם. מערכת הממיינים 

(classifiers) מארגנת את הלקסיקון לקטגוריות שבחרו הכותבים עצמם, כך שהן חושפות את הלך המחשבה ותפיסות העולם המקוריות (emic) של דוברי אותה הלשון. מערכות אלו טרם נבחנו כמושא מחקר בפני עצמן. 

בעזרת כלים דיגיטליים שפיתחה המעבדה, אנו ממפים את הדומה והשונה בארגון הידע המשתקף בכתבים ושפות שונות. מטרתנו היא לחשוף את המבנה:  מחד - תלוי התרבות  ומאידך - האוניברסלי, בארגון ידע אנושי. מטרתנו היא להנגיש את תמונות עולם המחשבה לכל המתעניין, ולאפשר שיטוט מקוון בין כתבים (למשל מצרית עתיקה, שומרית, סינית עתיקה) רעיונות ושפות. 


Discourse Markers as Indices of Discourse Types: The Case of Spoken and Written Egyptian Arabic

Michal Marmorstein, ISF 2018-2022

Research on DMs has mostly focused on either spoken or written data, showing a symbiotic relation between the functions and distribution of markers and a particular discourse type. The project aims to fill a significant gap both in the study of DMs and discourse types by exploring a varied set of markers across spoken and written (print and digital) forms of discourse in Egyptian (Cairene) Arabic. Egyptian Arabic provides a unique site for the proposed examination as it is a spoken language variety which is now in the process of becoming also a written language. It thus enables special insight into the emergence of conventions and the creation of new discourse types. The project is a first attempt to analyze these new forms of use of Egyptian Arabic from a pragmatic and meta-pragmatic perspective, aimed to identify and explain the new possibilities and constraints of using in writing a language variety so tightly associated with--i.e., adapted to and indexical of--oral-conversational discourse.

Talking about causation: linguistic and psychological perspectives

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal & Nora Boneh with York Hagmnayer (Göttingen University)


Niedersachsen-Israel collaboration grant, 2018-2020

Causation is a central concept in human experience and therefore is studied from various perspectives in many different disciplines among them philosophy, linguistics and cognitive psychology. Philosophical accounts of causation have strongly influenced theoretical models in linguistics and psychology. Therefore, it is quite surprising that there is hardly any joint research of psychologists and linguists on causation. In the current project we aim to investigate the notion or the notions of causation jointly by combining methodologies of both fields. Our research is based on findings in cognitive psychology, which indicate that people have a pluralistic conception of causation such that different representations of causality coexist in people's mind. We plan to experimentally study the different notions of causation that people entertain when they use different causative constructions to describe causal relations in the world. This project takes linguistic analysis as the starting point for empirical research. The proposed linguistic analysis identifies the differences between the various causative constructions in the combinations of sufficient and necessary conditions semantically encoded in a given construction. The results of the linguistic analyses on the semantics of different causative constructions will be taken as hypotheses to be evaluated by psychological experimentation.  Five experiments, which use different experimental strategies based on established paradigms in psychology, will be used to test the predictions stemming from the linguistic analysis. The experiments will be conducted in three languages, Hebrew, English, and German. This will allow us to find out whether the identified semantic differences in causative constructions are the same across languages. The results of our experiments are relevant both to psychology and to linguistics. They will show cognitive psychologists, studying causal reasoning, which notions of causation are encoded in the causative constructions they use in their instructions and test questions.  As the constructions may have affected the findings of previous studies, results might have to be reevaluated and theoretical models explaining the findings may have to be revised. Additionally, the results of the proposed studies will show linguists whether the theoretical frameworks they take as starting points for their analyses capture the notions of causation represented in people's mind.


The development of Modern Hebrew from a theoretical perspective

Edit Doron, ISF 2016-2019 

The principal objective of the project is to trace the syntactic trajectory of Modern Hebrew (MH) during its early years. The study aims to contribute to the understanding of, first, the language-internal vs. language-contact origins of the syntactic properties of MH at the stage where it only had L2 speakers (L2 stage), and second, the changes that these properties underwent when MH acquired native speakers (L1 stage). The second issue has practically not been addressed before. And although the first issue has been hotly debated, the debate has often been based on isolated examples, mostly illustrating lexicological, phonological, and morphological characteristics of MH. Only few of the syntactic traits of MH have so far been studied from a historical perspective. The present work will aim to study parameters not previously discussed in the literature whose value setting at the L1 stage could explain the clustering of the innovation of particular syntactic constructions. Such findings would point to a theory of change different from the view found in the literature whereby the first generation of L1 MH speakers were consciously taught the historical values of the Hebrew parameters at school, or made use of general cognitive mechanisms such as analogy and back-formation to simplify the L2 grammar.

Valency and transitivity in contact: the case of Coptic 

Eitan Grossman, GIF 2017-2020

The typology of verb borrowing has been studied intensively. However, most studies have focused on the relative borrowability of particular meanings, on the one hand (e.g., Haspelmath & Tadmor 2009), or the morphosyntactic means of integrating loan verbs into the grammatical structure of the target language (e.g., Wohlgemuth 2009). However, almost entirely neglected is the integration of loan verbs into recipient language transitivity and valency patterns. The proposed project aims to address this lacuna by providing an account of this phenomenon with respect to a single contact situation, taking as a test case Coptic-Greek contact in Late Antique and Early Islamic Egypt

The landscape of N-words

Ivy Sichel & Luka Crnič with Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen University)

2016-2019 Niedersachsen-Israel collaboration grant

The project is a systematic study of cross-linguistic variation in the domain of N-words in Negative-Concord systems, across both syntactic and semantic dimensions: whether the N-word is interpreted as a universal or existential quantifier; whether it requires ‘strict’ NC or not; whether the N-word includes morphology equivalent to even or not; how Prof. Anita Mittwoch 

distant the N-word may be from its licensing negation; etc. Beyond the immediate descriptive goal, the project aims to establish whether any of these properties cluster, cross-linguistically, in a significant way.  

Demonstrative pronouns, deixis, and anaphora

Ivy Sichel, ISF grant 2015-2018 

The project examines the landscape of referential autonomy. Referential autonomy, like dependency, is governed by grammatical principles and representations. Two kinds of principles appear to be involved, spanning both sentence-grammar and discourse-grammar: a ban against binding (Principle C), which all d-pronouns are subject to, and another, more stringent, ban, against coindexation, which only a subset of d-pronouns are subject to. What other properties characterize demonstrative pronouns, and are they related to the dimensions which characterize referential dependency? The study of dem-pronouns in a variety of languages, with a special focus on Hebrew and German, may begin to address these questions.

Dative selection between the syntax and the lexicon  

Nora Boneh, ISF 2014-2017 

This project cross-linguistically explores the divide between core and non-core third or added participants, realized as bare dative marked DPs or as Prepositional Phrases, and expressing such roles as Goal, Recipient, Possessor, Beneficiary/Maleficiary, Affected participant or Attitude Holder. Its objective is to clarify the syntactic and semantic reality behind this wide-spread terminology, and to suggest a novel way to look at argument selection in the case of ditransitives. More broadly, the findings are expected to shed light on the theoretical question of the syntax/lexicon divide, and support a constructivist approach, where syntactic structure contains basic semantic meaning blocks, and roots are inserted from the lexicon with minimal content. 

Specifically, the study aims to corroborate two issues: the first concerning the fuzziness of the semantic roles related to core and non-core participants; the second issue concerns the possible attachment sites of core and non-core dative marked participants. The hypotheses that will be put to the test, which tie these two issues together, is that this semantic fuzziness is due to a structural ambiguity,  and that possible attachment sites can vary from language to language and have correlates in the type of verbs allowed to participate in dative constructions, and in the range of interpretations these constructions may have. 

Syntactic analysis of Old Babylonian Akkadian on the basis of a large-scale corpus 

Eran Cohen, ISF 2015–2018


The purposes of this study are: 

First, to further and deepen our knowledge about OB syntax by utilizing a larger corpus as primary material for the inquiry as well as expanding the field of inquiry by adding various understudied issues to the menu, including expansion into the text-linguistic level. 

Second, the results are planned to serve as an aid, and not merely as an abstraction. 

Third, this syntactic study is planned to be accessible to a wide research community, by glossing all text examples, and by preferring transparent linguistic terminology. 


Polarity items across languages 

Luka Crnič, ISF 2014-2017 


The project will focus primarily on uncovering variation in the distribution and semantic import of polarity items, paying special attention to their behavior in previously understudied environments. By uncovering the dimensions of variation among polarity items, we expect to ascertain the universal building blocks of the polarity system as well as shed new light on semantic diversity across languages. The project is also expected to have significant theoretical consequences pertaining to the proper treatment of polarity items. 

Alternative-sensitive computations in natural language: focus-sensitive particles and embedded exhaustification 

Luka Crnič, GIF I-2353-110.4/2014


Alternative-sensitive computations are pervasive in natural language and they play a fundamental role in a variety of phenomena in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. The project aims to advance our understanding of their interactions and their processing. Although we plan to focus on just two specific classes of alternative-sensitive computations and their interaction – computations induced by focus-sensitive particles and computations involved in generation of scalar implicatures –, their detailed study is expected to improve our understanding of alternative-sensitive computations more generally and of their import for linguistics and cognitive science. 

The Typology of Adposition Borrowing 

Eitan Grossman, ISF 2013-2016 

Typological approaches have proved extremely illuminating for language contact research. To date, they have been applied to a range of grammatical and lexical categories, as well as a number of basic meanings. This project aims to fill a significant gap in the typology of language contact phenomena, namely, a cross-linguistic study of the borrowing of adpositions and other case markers, based on an extensive language sample. A systematic worldwide study of this phenomenon has never been conducted. 

Adpositions – prepositions, postpositions, and other minor types – are well attested in the world’s languages, and they tend to occur in a wide range of grammatical constructions. They are usually situated between grammar and lexicon, and most borrowability scales locate them in the middle, between clear lexical items and grammatical items such as inflectional morphology. However, these scales have been constructed on partial evidence, rather than the basis of a comprehensive cross-linguistic sample. One of the goals of this project is to evaluate the empirical adequacy of such scales, as well as other ‘smaller’ scales that have been proposed in the literature.  

Preliminary research has turned up a number of exciting research questions – beyond borrowability – that have not yet been adequately dealt with in discussions of adposition borrowing, e.g., linear order conflicts, case government, polysemy narrowing, the morphosyntactic integration of adpositions, the role of text-type or discourse situation in facilitating or motivating adposition borrowing (or code-switching), areal and historical factors, and more. This project will address these questions in order to identify the observed patterns of adposition borrowing across languages.  

Since the issue of adposition borrowing is a multifaceted one, this project will tackle it in a number of ways: a survey of secondary literature, grammars, the construction of a detailed database, as well as several in-depth studies of adposition borrowing in primary text corpora in a number of languages. 

This project is intended primarily as a contribution to the typology of language contact, but also as a contribution to the typology of adpositions in general: while it is well known that adpositions are borrowed, this phenomenon rarely makes it into general typological treatments of adpositions. The proposed project aims to address this gap. As Yaron Matras has pointed out, language contact ‘acts as a natural laboratory of language change where properties may become transparent that are otherwise obscure, and so it may allow deeper insights into the functions of grammatical structures and categories.’ As such, the study of adposition borrowing across languages is likely to lead to insights that have relevance for our understanding of language in general.