Reassessing scale effects on differential case marking: Methodological, conceptual and theoretical issues in the quest for a universal
It is widely believed that when differential case marking depends on the referential proper-
ties of the NP in question, it is governed by a well-defined hierarchy or scale of referential
categories, and that the resulting systematicity is one of the most robust generalizations in
linguistic typology. This view has recently been called into question, with Sinnemäki (2014)
and especially Bickel, Witzlack-Makarevich & Zakharko (2015) claiming that there is now
firm typological evidence against such universal scale effects. Since these papers are based
on the largest world-wide databases compiled so far, their results are likely to be taken as the
current state of the field. In the present paper, we re-examine Bickel, Witzlack-Makarevich
& Zakharko’s (2015) data from a different perspective and re-evaluate their negative conclu-
sions: First, we complement their analysis in terms of diachronic “family biases” by a more
direct inspection of the raw data and an alternative statistical model, both of which afford
a clearer understanding of where and how exactly the predicted scale effects are violated.
Proceeding from this, we argue for the existence of universal scale effects on case mark-
ing, and we embed this argument in a more general discussion on current methodological,
conceptual and theoretical issues in postulating these effects.