Grammar of non-standard varieties in the East of the Circum-Baltic area

University of Tartu, February 1-3, 2018

The focus of dialectal research of Western European languages has shifted from lexicography, phonology and morphology to different domains of grammar such as syntax in recent decades (cf. the collection of syntactic descriptions of various English varieties in Kortmann et al. (eds.) 2004; numerous studies in the generative tradition on German dialects such as Bader et al. 2000; Bayer & Brandner 2004; cf. the discussion in Bucheli et al. 2012). While most of the dialect studies rely on questionnaires of various kinds, it is only recently that usage-based methods have started to be applied in dialectology such as corpus-based studies on dialect syntax (cf. the quantitative analysis of morphosyntax of English dialects in Szmrecsanyi & Kortmann 2009; Szmrecsanyi 2013; on Dutch dialects, cf. Levshina et al. 2014). While not without limitations and disadvantages, corpus-based methods can hardly be overestimated in the dialectological research. Both questionnaire- and corpus-based methods have brought about new ways of collecting dialectological data as well as a new impetus to dialectological fieldwork. Variationist linguists have become interested in dialectal grammars and the ways they interact with each other as well as with standard varieties.

While there is no difference in principle between languages and varieties or dialects, the latter are often considered by linguists to be primarily the research domain of dialectology which, in turn, is traditionally more focused on lexicography and phonetics/phonology. Consequently, the grammars of dialects and regional varieties are heavily understudied although they often diverge from the respective standard languages quite considerably, exhibiting sometimes areal and typological quirks. Moreover, non-standard varieties are free from purifications and artificial norms. In this way they represent a much better empirical basis for usage-based research on any linguistic phenomenon without the need to take into account the confounding factors brought about by prescriptivists.

Despite their potential advantages, the effect of these new and positive developments have been felt less for the East of the Circum-Baltic area in general. This is despite the creation of a few important corpora, such as: the morphologically annotated corpus of Estonian dialects (, which also includes some data from Votic and Livonian; the TriMCo dialectal corpus ( that will contain annotated dialect records from non-standard Latgalian, East Lithuanian, Belarusian and Russian Pskov varieties; the syntactically annotated corpus of Finnish dialects (The Finnish Dialect Syntax Archive,, as well as some other minor data sources. Thus, the Corpus of Estonian Dialects has already been a fruitful source for corpus-based dialect syntax studies such as Uiboaed et al. (2013), Klavan, Pilvik & Uiboaed (2015), Lindström et al. (to appear). The overall picture is not substantially changed by the few existing studies from different theoretical perspectives on the grammar of West and North Russian varieties such as Tommola (1996), Trubinskij (1972, 1988), Požarickaja (1996), Lavine (2014), Post (2014) or Seržant (2012, 2014).

The first aim of this conference is therefore to gather researchers working on various domains of grammar of non-standard varieties of the area such as morphosyntax, syntax, semantics and function of grammatical categories. Furthermore, the regional varieties are also more suitable for research on language contact (cf. for the general overview Koptjevskaja-Tamm & Wälchli 2001). Though many borrowings may not only be banned from the standard, sometimes they simply do not reach the standard and persist only as regional traits in the close vicinity of the source language. Moreover, non-standard varieties are much more flexible as regards the accommodation of borrowed patterns and items. They therefore provide more natural example cases of these processes and better lend themselves to the study of mechanisms constraining pattern borrowing. It seems, therefore, that investigating language contact on the basis of non-standard varieties, especially if they are also situated close to the respective genetic borders should be more promising and lucid. The second goal of this conference is thus to approach language contact from the perspective of the regional varieties. The conference will offer a forum for scholars interested in grammatical phenomena from understudied varieties of the Circum-Baltic area and potentially foster comparative research on border varieties across genetic boundaries in the area.

We envisage submission on topics including but not limited to the following:

  • the description of a particular grammatical phenomenon in a non-standard variety from the area; corpus-driven accounts are particularly welcome;
  • comparative studies on non-standard varieties of genetically different languages;
  • studies providing evidence for language contact on the basis of non-standard varieties;
  • contact-induced variation and change;
  • the contribution of the varieties to linguistic theory, typology, etc.;
  • the description of accommodation and propagation mechanisms of a borrowed pattern in non-standard varieties.

Invited speakers:


  • Liina Lindström (University of Tartu, liina.lindstrom[at]
  • Ilja A. Seržant (University of Leipzig, ilja.serzants[at]
  • Maarja-Liisa Pilvik (University of Tartu, maarja-liisa.pilvik[at]

Conference venue: University of Tartu

Important dates:
Abstract submission deadline: September 30, 2017
Notification of acceptance: October 15, 2017
Registration closes: December 10, 2017
Conference: February 1-3, 2018

The abstracts should not exceed 2 pages in length (including examples and references) and are to be submitted by sending them to all three organizers (e-mails above).

The conference is organized in collaboration with the Graduate School of Linguistics, Philosophy and Semiotics, and is supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA Project PER ASPERA, and by the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (European Union, European Regional Development Fund).


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