Funeral ceremony in Basketo (Ethiopia) Granaries of the Bodi people (Ethiopia) Flowers of a coffee tree Bodi Lowlands (Ethiopia) Market in Laska (Basketo, Ethiopia) Market in Balts’a (Melo, Ethiopia) Hornbills (Ethiopia) Home and gardens of a Basketo family (Ethiopia) Home of a Gofa family (Ethiopia)


Paris, 16-17 July 2012
International Workshop ‘Expressions of similarity from an Africanist and typological perspective’

The laboratory Langage, Langues et Cultures d’Afrique Noire (LLACAN) of the French National Research Center (CNRS) and the INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) is organising an international workshop on expressions of similarity in African languages from a typological perspective.

While comparative constructions have been fairly well studied both from an Africanist (see e.g. Heine 2003) and from a typological point of view (see e.g. Stassen 1985, 2011; Dixon 2008), similative constructions like those in ex. 1-2 have so far attracted little attention in the typological literature and even less so in the description of African languages.

  • 1. He fights like a lion.
  • 2. She swims like a dolphin.

Haspelmath & Buchholz (1998) survey similative and equative constructions in European languages and Fortescue (2010) deals with expressions of similarity from a semantic-cognitive perspective. We are, however, not aware of any studies dealing with similative constructions in African languages in any depth. Our workshop thus aims at broadening and enhancing our knowledge of expressions of similarity in Africa. The research presented will take synchronic and diachronic aspects of similative constructions into account and be embedded in a typological context.

Research on the grammaticalisation targets of similative morphemes (‘like’) have focused on the development of the quotative function (see, in particular, Güldemann 2008) while other grammaticalisation targets of ‘like’ have been studied less systematically. We would thus like to concentrate in our workshop on the lesser known grammaticalisation targets of ‘like’ in African languages, e.g. purpose clauses and temporal clauses.

We invite the submission of papers (20min + 10min discussion) that deal with synchronic and diachronic aspects of similative constructions and the grammaticalisation and multifunctionality of similative morphemes in individual African languages or in several African languages of one (sub )family or one region. Typologically oriented papers dealing with non-African languages are equally welcome.

The contributions sought for this workshop include, but are not restricted to, the following:

I. The encoding of expressions of similarity and conceptually related constructions (cf. Haspelmath & Buchholz 1998), e.g.
  • Similative phrases (see ex. 1-2 above)
  • Role phrases (cf. Creissels 2011: “functives”) (e.g. ‘as your mother’, ‘as a doctor’)
  • Equative constructions (e.g. ‘she is as tall as her sister’)
  • Similes (e.g. ‘just as a flower wilts in the darkness, so people become depressed when they only sit in their offices’)
  • Similative clauses (e.g. ‘he writes like his sister talks’)
  • Accord clauses / illocutionary clauses (cf. Pierrard 2008: “comparative co-énonciative”) (e.g. ‘as has been mentioned earlier’)
  • Pretence clauses (e.g. ‘as if he were Italian’)
II. The diachronic origin of similative morphemes.
III. The grammaticalisation targets and the multifunctionality of ‘like’ and the conceptual mechanisms that underlie the functional extension of ‘like’: e.g.
  • ‘like’ as purpose clause marker
  • ‘like’ as temporal clause marker (e.g. of simultaneity, immediate anteriority) (cf. Taine-Cheikh 2004)
  • ‘like’ as complement clause marker (cf. Crass & Meyer 2008)
  • ‘like’ as adverbialiser of adjectives (e.g. “bad-like” for ‘bad’)
  • ‘like’ for nominal identification, listing and coordination (cf. Güldemann 2008: 509ff)
  • NB: We are less interested in the well documented development of ‘like’ into quotatives and from there into complementisers and markers of adverbial clauses (as elaborated upon in Güldemann 2008) but more interested in grammaticalisa¬tions of ‘like’ that did not proceed via the quotative function.

The workshop languages will be English and French.

Keynote speakers

We have invited the following keynote speakers:

  • Denis Creissels (Université de Lyon): "Similative constructions as a possible source of modals"
  • Martin Haspelmath (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig): "Equative constructions in world-wide perspective"
  • Wolfgang Schulze (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) : "Projection, similarity, and transformation: the cognitive semantics of LIKE-concepts in East Caucasian and their grammaticalization potential"

Abstract submission

Abstracts of maximally one DIN A4 page (plus maximally one page of references and examples) are to be submitted before the 15th of January 2012 to the following email address:

Abstracts are to be anonymised and submitted in pdf-format. The abstracts will be reviewed by the scientific committee and notifications of acceptance will be sent out by the 28th of February 2012. Please contact use for further information.

Selected references

Crass, Joachim & Ronny Meyer 2008. Ethiopia. In: Heine, Bernd & Derek Nurse (eds.). A linguistic geography of Africa, pp. 228-249.Cambridge: CUP.

Creissels, Denis 2011. The functive (alias essive) in typological perspective. Paper presented at the ALT9 Conference, July 21-24, 2011, Hong-Kong. Available online at: (Last accessed on 2011-09-02)

Dixon, R.M.W. 2008. Comparative constructions: A cross-linguistic typology. Studies in Language 32, 4: 787-817.

Fortescue, Michael 2010. Similitude: A conceptual category. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 42, 2: 117-142.

Güldemann, Tom 2008. Quotative indexes in African languages: A synchronic and diachronic survey. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Haspelmath, Martin & Oda Buchholz 1998. Equative and similative constructions in the languages of Europe. In: van der Auwera, Johan (ed.). Adverbial constructions in the languages of Europe, pp. 277-334. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Heine, Bernd 2003. Comparative constructions in Africa: An areal dimension. Annual Publications in African Linguistics 1: 47-68.

Pierrard, Michel 2008. La comparative co-énonciative en ‘comme’. Langue Française 159, 3: 50-66.

Stassen, Leon 1985. Comparison and universal grammar. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stassen, Leon 2011. Comparative Constructions. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 121. Available online at (Last accessed on 2011-09-01)

Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2004. De la grammaticalisation de ‘comme’ (comparative) en arabe. Dans : Haak, M., R. de Jong & K. Versteegh (éds.). Approaches to Arabic dialects. Collection of articles presented to Manfred Woidich on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, pp. 309-328. Leiden : Brill.

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