Stadt: Bremen, Germany

Frist: 2018-07-29

Beginn: 2019-03-06

Ende: 2019-03-08



41st Annual Conference of the German Society for Linguistics (DGfS)
University of Bremen (Germany), March 6-8, 2019
Workshop 2: Proper names versus common nouns: morphosyntactic contrasts in the languages of the world


Johannes Helmbrecht, Universität Regensburg,
Javier Caro Reina, Universität zu Köln,

Workshop description

Recent research has shown that proper names may differ morphosyntactically from common nouns (see Schlücker & Ackermann 2017 for details). These morphological and syntactic differences are so striking that Nübling et al. (2015) speak of a specific “onymic grammar”. However, little is known of the morphosyntactic contrasts between proper names and common nouns in less studied European and Non-European languages, or even from a cross-linguistic perspective. The goal of this workshop is to bring together papers that examine the morphological and syntactic patterns of proper names in opposition to common nouns in related and unrelated languages (and language families), from a descriptive, comparative-typological, or diachronic perspective.

Topics to be explored include language-specific and/or cross-linguistic differences between proper names and common nouns regarding:

  • verbal agreement (cross-reference) of argument positions;
  • word order of argument positions and/or non-arguments (adjuncts);
  • topicalization and dislocation;
  • differential case marking of arguments and/or non-arguments (adjuncts);
  • inflection and word-formation (including allomorphy);
  • gender assignment (e.g. Bantu languages);
  • definite articles (e.g. Austronesian languages);
  • modifiers;
  • etc.

Grammatical phenomena that have received more attention in typology and that fall under these possible topics of the workshop are Differential Object Marking (DOM) and changes of alignment types in split ergative languages. In Old Spanish, for instance, DOM was obligatory with personal names while it was optional with human definite common nouns. In Corsican, by contrast, DOM occurs with proper names but not with common nouns (see Caro Reina, forthcoming). Furthermore, personal names pattern differently with regard to the alignment type in so-called split ergative languages. For example, Meriam Mer (a Papuan language of the Torres Strait region) has a nominative-accusative case marking pattern with personal pronouns and an ergative-absolutive marking pattern with common nouns. Proper names, on the other hand, have a three-way marking pattern with an ergative case for the A argument, absolutive case for the S argument, and an accusative case for the O argument (see Helmbrecht et al. 2018 for further examples and a discussion).

Additionally, proper names have been traditionally viewed as a homogeneous group. However, there is cross-linguistic evidence that an animacy-based classification of proper names comprised of deity names (theonyms), personal names (anthroponyms), animal names (zoonyms), and place names (toponyms) contributes to a better understanding of the distinct morphosyntactic patterns of proper names.

The workshop will enable us to explore the morphosyntactic differences between proper names and common nouns, and also to strive for semantic and pragmatic explanations of these differences. We invite submissions of abstracts that address the morphosyntactic contrasts between common nouns and proper names in a language or language family, cross-linguistically, or from a diachronic perspective.


Caro Reina, Javier. Forthcoming. Differential object marking with proper names in Romance languages. In Luise Kempf, Damaris Nübling & Mirjam Schmuck (eds.), Linguistik der Eigennamen. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Helmbrecht, Johannes et al. 2018. Morphosyntactic coding of proper names and its implications for the Animacy Hierarchy. In Sonja Cristofaro & Fernando Zún͂iga (eds.), Typological hierarchies in synchrony and diachrony, 381–404. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Nübling, Damaris et al. 2015. Namen: Eine Einführung in die Onomastik. Tübingen: Narr.
Schlücker, Barbara & Tanja Ackermann. 2017. The morphosyntax of proper names: An overview. Folia Linguistica 51(2). 309–339.

Abstract submission

Please send abstracts (not more than one page in pdf format) to Johannes Helmbrecht ( and Javier Caro Reina ( no later than July 29, 2018. Abstracts should contain contact details (name, affiliation, and email address). Notification of acceptance will be send around by August 26, 2018. Talks will be given 30 or 60 minute slots including discussion, depending on the program.

The regulations of the German Society for Linguistics (DGfS) do not allow that workshop participants present two or more papers in different workshops. Likewise, organizers of other workshops of this conference are not allowed to present a paper in this workshop.

Beitrag von: Javier Caro Reina

Redaktion: Marcel Schmitt