Stadt: Tübingen

Frist: 2016-07-31

Beginn: 2016-12-01

Ende: 2016-12-02

Workshop Description

English there is, French il y a, or German es gibt are typical examples of so called existential constructions (1) and have been intensely studied in the last 30 years (cf. among others Lyons 1967, Clark 1987, Freeze 1992, Hartmann 2008, Leonetti 2008, McNally 2011, Koch 2012, Bentley 2013, Creissels 2014, Bentley et al. 2015).

(1) There are lions in Africa.
Il y a des lions en Afrique.
In Afrika gibt es Löwen.

As Clark (1978) already pointed out, in many languages existential constructions are systematically related to locative and possessive constructions (2a,b). The exact nature of this alternation, the delimitation of the cognitive domains EXISTENCE and LOCATION, and the cross-linguistic/ typological distribution of recurrent patterns organizing the semantic space EXISTENCE/LOCATION/POSSESSION are however still subject of discussion (Koch 2012, Creissels 2014), and will be one central topic of the workshop.

(2) a. There is a book on the table. / The book is on the table. / The book is Tom’s.
b. Il y a un livre sur la table. / Jean a un livre.

A second major concern of the conference will be the relation of EXISTENCE/LOCATION and existential constructions to information structure. Existential constructions in some languages exhibit the definiteness effect (Milsark 1977), that has been partially explained in terms of information-structural restrictions (Ward & Birner 1995, McNally 1997, Leonetti 2008). Depending on the language or the diatopic/diastratic variety within one language (e.g. Spanish haber, cf. among others De Mello 1991, Claes 2014), existential constructions are construed personally or impersonally (sometimes with an expletive subject). As a consequence, the grammatical status of the pivot noun phrase in existential constructions is quite often unclear, and varies between subject, object or “something-in-between” (cf. “actant H” in Lazard 1994). Additionally, these constructions have been analyzed as a subgroup of presentative constructions, so that their relation to information structure and general principles of discourse organization is also a wider issue (Lambrecht 1994).

Although a lot of research on existential constructions deals with English, there are also studies taking an explicit comparative perspective (Clark 1978, Freeze 1992, Zeshan & Perniss 2008, Koch 2012, Creissels 2014) or focusing on languages other than English (Leonetti 2008, Koontz-Garboden 2009, Weinert 2013, Bentley et al. 2015). There has recently also been an increasing interest in diachronic studies (Pfenninger 2009, Ciconte 2011). These studies reveal systematic reoccurring cross-linguistic and diachronic patterns and thus offer interesting insights into the cognitive and linguistic principles that govern the expression of EXISTENCE and LOCATION. The range of experimental or psycholinguistic research on the topic is however still limited, so that we especially invite contributions presenting experimental studies.

The workshop aims to bring together scholars from all frameworks working on existential constructions in order to provide a platform for fruitful scientific debate on the topic.

Call for Papers

We invite original research contributions that present empirical research on existential constructions (typological data, corpus studies, psycholinguistic and experimental data) or theoretical studies of existential constructions, or a combination of both. Papers taking a cross-linguistic, comparative or diachronic perspective or that present experimental data are especially welcome. Contributions could address, but are not limited to, one of the following topics:

- the conceptual and/or linguistic link between EXISTENCE and LOCATION (and/or POSSESSION)
- the relation of existential constructions and copula constructions (or constructions involving “near-copula” verbs, like German posture verbs)
- the relation of existential constructions (e.g. there be), verbs of “coming into being/presence” (e.g. to appear) and verbs of existence (e.g. to exist)
- existential constructions and information structure
- existential constructions and presentativity
- existential constructions and impersonal constructions
- the status of the pivot noun phrase
- typological approaches to the study of existential constructions
- experimental approaches to existential constructions
- diachronic variation and grammaticalization of existential constructions
- …

Invited Speakers
Delia Bentley (Manchester)
Denis Creissels (Lyon)
Manuel Leonetti (Madrid)

Abstract Submission
Please send your abstract of about 300-500 words to charlotte.coy[at] before July 31st, 2016. Abstracts should be written in English, anonymous, and formatted in pdf. Please include author information (affiliation, contact address) and the title of your abstract in the body of the e-mail.

Important Dates
Deadline for Abstract Submission: 31st Jul. 2016
Notification of Acceptance: 30 Sep. 2016
Workshop: 1st & 2nd Dec. 2016

Venue: Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, D-72074 Tübingen, Germany
Organizers: Projects C4 and A7 of SFB 833
Organizing Committee: Charlotte Coy, Jutta Hartmann, Sarah Dessì Schmid

Contact Email: charlotte.coy[at]

Bentley, Delia (2013): Subject canonicality and definiteness effects in Romance there-sentences. In Language 89.4, 675-712.
Bentley, Delia/ Ciconte, Francesco M. / Cruschina, Silvio (2015): Existentials and Locatives in Romance Dialects of Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ciconte, Francesco M. (2011). The emergence and the reanalysis of the existential proform: evi-dence from early Italo-Romance. In Transactions of the Philological Society 109(3), 284-306.
Claes, Jeroen (2014): A Cognitive Construction Grammar approach to the pluralization of presentational haber in Puerto Rican Spanish. In Language Variation and Change 26, 219-246.
Clark, Eve (1978): Locationals: Existential, locative and possessive constructions. In J. Greenberg (ed.): Universals of Human Language. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 85-126.
Creissels, Denis (2014): Existential predication in typological perspective. MS, University of Lyon;
DeMello, George (1991): Pluralización del verbo haber en el español hablado culto de once ciudades. In Thesaurus 46, 445-471.
Freeze, Ray (1992): Existentials and other locatives. In Language 68, 553-595.
Hartmann, Jutta M. (2008): Expletives in Existentials: English there and German da. (LOT Dissertation Series 181). Utrecht: LOT.
Koch, Peter (2012): Location, existence, and possession: a constructional-typological exploration. In Linguistics 50, 533-603.
Koontz-Garboden, Andrew (2009): Locative and existential constructions in Ulwa. In Anthropological Linguistics 51(3/4), 244-68.
Lambrecht, Knud (1994): Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus, and the Mental Representation of Discourse Referents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lazard, Gilbert (1994): L’actant H : sujet ou objet ? In Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 89.1, 1-28.
Leonetti, Manuel (2008): Definiteness effects and the role of the coda in existential constructions. In H. Høeg-Muller, (ed.): Essays on nominal determination: from morphology to discourse management. Amsterdam /Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 131-162.
Lyons, John (1967): A note on possessive, existential and locative sentences. In Foundations of Language 3, 390-396.
McNally, Louise (1997): A Semantics for the English Existential Construction. New York/London: Garland.
McNally, Louise (2011): Existential Sentences. In K. von Heusinger et al. (eds.): Semantics, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1829-1848.
Milsark, Gary (1977): Toward an Explanation of Certain Peculiarities in the Existential Construction in English. In Linguistic Analysis, 3, 1-30.
Pfenninger, Simone E. (2009): Grammaticalization Paths of English and High German Existential Constructions. Bern: Peter Lang.
Ward, Gregory/ Birner, Betty (1995): Definiteness and the English Existential. In Language 71 (4), 722-742.
Weinert, Regina (2013): Presentational/existential structures in spoken versus written German: es gibt and sein. In Journal of Germanic Linguistics 25(1), 37-79.
Zeshan, Ulrike/ Perniss, Pamela (eds.) (2008): Possessive and Existential Constructions in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 2. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.