Lab

Greville Corbett's Lab

About the lab

Surrey Morphology Group (SMG) is a linguistics research centre dedicated to the study of language diversity and its theoretical consequences.

Our research combines the investigation of grammatical categories in a broad sample of languages with the use of explicit formal and statistical frameworks for the expression of typological and theoretical generalizations.

SMG has received funding from the European Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, among others

Featured projects (1)

Project
We have three main objectives: 1. to demonstrate how the baffling gender systems of natural languages arise; To succeed finally in this great challenge of linguistics, uncovering the origin of gender, requires finding the ideal field-site and then combining linguistic typology with psycholinguistic techniques. Only then can we give a full picture of the stages of development of gender systems. We have identified six case study Oceanic languages, which show intriguing signs of developing properties of grammatical gender. We have designed experiments that can demonstrate the rise of gender, showing how these systems develop along a grammaticalisation path from noun to classifier to gender. Each language in our sample exhibits characteristics of the different stages of grammaticalisation which requires a focussed investigation. 2. to show the nature of these systems as they survive; The best hypothesis for the origin of gender systems is in semantically transparent types of classifiers. These are replaced by conventionalised, less obviously useful, gender systems. Our experiments will establish a sound empirical base for studying the nature of emerging gender systems, by compiling a representative body of examples. We need to establish how and why languages relinquish a useful, meaningful classificatory system, and adopt a rigid, apparently unmotivated gender system. These transitional systems offer vital evidence as to the nature of established gender systems. 3. and thus to shed light on human categorisation. While linguists would be delighted to see success with objectives 1 and 2, psychologists want to know what these varying systems can tell us about human categorisation. This is a potentially soluble question now that psycholinguistic techniques, such as eye-tracking, can be used in remote fieldwork locations. The comparative results of the experiments will allow us to establish whether gender or classifiers are the most optimal categorisation system in terms of cognitive load and efficiency. The results will also be used to formulate a category training experiment with English speakers to ascertain the relative cognitive cost of each system.

Featured research (5)

Studies have challenged the assumption that different types of word-final s in English are homophonous. On the one hand, affixal (e.g., laps) and non-affixal s (e.g., lapse) differ in their duration; on the other hand, variation exists across several types of affixal s (e.g., between the plural (cars) and genitive plural (cars’)). This line of research was recently expanded in a study in which an interesting side effect appeared: the s was longer if followed by a past tense verb (e.g., The pods / odds eventually dropped.), in comparison to a following present tense verb (e.g., The old screens / jeans obviously need replacing.). Put differently, the s became longer in the absence of overt morphosyntactic agreement, where it was mostly the sole plurality marker in the sentence. The objective of the present article is to examine whether this effect can be replicated in a more controlled setting. Having considered a large number of potential confounding variables in a reading experiment, we found an effect in the expected direction, one that is compatible with the literature on the impact that predictability has on duration. We interpret this finding against the background of the role of fine acoustic detail in language.
The debate as to whether language influences cognition has been long standing but has yielded conflicting findings across domains such as colour and kinship categories. Fewer studies have investigated systems such as nominal classification (gender, classifiers) across different languages to examine the effects of linguistic categorisation on cognition. Effective categorisation needs to be informative to maximise communicative efficiency but also simple to minimise cognitive load. It therefore seems plausible to suggest that different systems of nominal classification have implications for the way speakers conceptualise relevant entities. A suite of seven experiments was designed to test this; here we focus on our card sorting experiment, which contains two sub-tasks — a free sort and a structured sort. Participants were 119 adults across six Oceanic languages from Vanuatu and New Caledonia, with classifier inventories ranging from two to 23. The results of the card sorting experiment reveal that classifiers appear to provide structure for cognition in tasks where they are explicit and salient. The free sort task did not incite categorisation through classifiers, arguably as it required subjective judgement, rather than explicit instruction. This was evident from our quantitative and qualitative analyses. Furthermore, the languages employing more extreme categorisation systems displayed smaller variation in comparison to more moderate systems. Thus, systems that are more informative or more rigid appear to be more efficient. The study implies that the influence of language on cognition may vary across languages, and that not all nominal classification systems employ this optimal trade-off between simplicity and informativeness. These novel data provide a new perspective on the origin and nature of nominal classification.
Competition takes many forms. A newly identified type of competition involves the featural specification of one of the competitors as a key factor. In the particular instance treated here, whether a given item has a competitor depends on its number (and sometimes its person). We focus on the use of the genitive case versus adjective-like forms in possessive expressions (broadly understood). The data come primarily from the Slavonic languages, where a surprising original system of possessive pronouns competing with personal pronouns has played out rather differently through the family. We find a variety of outcomes, from conservative to highly innovative, with some instances of competitors settling into different niches.
Linguistics, and typology in particular, can have a bright future. We justify this optimism by discussing comparability from two angles. First, we take the opportunity presented by this special issue of Linguistic Typology to pause for a moment and make explicit some of the logical underpinnings of typological sciences, linguistics included, which we believe are worth reminding ourselves of. Second, we give a brief illustration of comparison, and particularly measurement, within modern typology.
Linguistics, and typology in particular, can have a bright future. We justify this optimism by discussing comparability from two angles. First, we make explicit some of the logical underpinnings of typological sciences, linguistics included, which we believe are worth reminding ourselves of. Second, we give a brief illustration of comparison, and particularly measurement, within modern typology.

Lab head

Greville Corbett
Department
  • Surrey Morphology Group, School of Literature and Languages

Members (9)

Matthew Baerman
  • University of Surrey
Marina Chumakina
  • University of Surrey
Oliver Bond
  • University of Surrey
Sacha Beniamine
  • University of Surrey
Marina Chumakina
  • University of Surrey
David Gyorfi
  • University of Surrey
Steven Kaye
  • Cisco Systems, Inc
Sebastian Fedden
Sebastian Fedden
  • Not confirmed yet
Sebastian Fedden
Sebastian Fedden
  • Not confirmed yet
Jérémy Pasquereau
Jérémy Pasquereau
  • Not confirmed yet
Tim Feist
Tim Feist
  • Not confirmed yet
Helen Sims-Williams
Helen Sims-Williams
  • Not confirmed yet
Mike Franjieh
Mike Franjieh
  • Not confirmed yet