Information Structure in Spoken Language Corpora 2 (ISSLaC2)

ISSLaC2 is a follow-up to the conference "Information Structure in Spoken Language Corpora" organized in June 2013 at Bielefeld University by Claudia Wegener, Candide Simard, and Eva Schultze-Berndt During this conference it appeared that there was a growing interest in the study of information structure in lesser-known languages and that a dedicated conference would be an opportunity to bring together the scientific community in order to discuss both recent research findings and methodological issues.


The study of information structure (IS) is primarily established for well-described languages, but there is a clear need for new data from a greater variety of languages (Büring 2009). Indeed, IS theory has been criticized as being shaped by just a handful of languages (Matić & Wedgwood 2013). Moreover, new evidence from lesser-known languages seems to challenge previously established assumptions (Rialland & Robert 2001, Adamou & Gordon 2014 among others).

But the attempt to analyze IS is often considered a ‘luxury’ in the study of lesser-known or endangered languages despite its centrality in actual communication. One important reason is that the study of IS is complex and requires the analysis and interaction of several linguistic levels, involving syntax, morphology, and prosody. This implies an excellent understanding of the so-called canonical syntactic and prosodic structures of a given language, which is already an enormous and time-consuming task.

Also, IS in major-communication languages is often analyzed through intuitive judgments, elicitation, experimental tasks, and rich corpus analyses (Calhoun 2010), offering the possibility of conducting both qualitative and quantitative studies. However, the implementation of these methods in the context of understudied and, in particular, endangered languages, proves to be extremely challenging. Most linguists working on such languages have no native speaker intuitions, and speakers often have difficulties with elicitation tasks involving metalinguistic awareness. Furthermore, while the study of spontaneous speech may appear as an alternative to using experimental or elicited data, the existing text corpora of under-documented or endangered languages are relatively limited in size, often lack explicit question-answer pairs that are needed for the study of focus, and the context and speakers’ intentions are difficult to analyze (Schultze-Berndt & Simard 2012). Thus, on one hand the study of IS phenomena in lesser-known languages is crucial for the understanding of IS cross-linguistically; on the other hand, it poses a particular challenge because of the difficulty to obtain reliable data.

This conference aims at providing an opportunity to discuss the above-mentioned methodological problems, possible solutions, as well as research findings from the study of lesser-known languages in relation to their impact on the theory of IS.

ISSLaC2 is part of the project “The Typology and corpus annotation of information structure and grammatical relations” (co-PIs Amina Mettouchi, Stéphane Robert and Martine Vanhove) funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) as part of the “Investissements d’Avenir” program (ANR-10-LABX-0083) Empirical Foundations of Language.


  • Adamou,E. & M. Gordon.2014. Estudio experimental de la expresión prosódica de foco en ixcateco, Coloquio sobre lenguas otomangues y vecinas (COLOV 6), Oaxaca, Biblioteca de Investigación Juan de Córdova, Apr 24–27, 2014.
  • Büring, D. 2009. Towards a typology of focus realization. In M. Zimmermann, & C. Féry, Information Structure, 177-205. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Calhoun, S. 2010. The centrality of metrical structure in signalling information structure: a probabilistic perspective. Language 86 (1): 1-42.
  • Matić, D. & D. Wedgwood. 2013. The meanings of focus: The significance of an interpretation-based category in cross-linguistic analysis. Journal of Linguistics 49(1): 127-163.
  • Rialland, A. & S. Robert. 2001. The intonation system of Wolof. Linguistics 39: 893-939.
  • Schultze-Berndt, E. & C. Simard. 2012. Constraints on noun phrase discontinuity in an Australian language: The role of prosody and information structure. Linguistics 50(5): 1015–1058.