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Jack B. Martin
Natural language ontology is a branch of both metaphysics and linguistic semantics. Its aim is to uncover the ontological categories, notions, and structures that are implicit in the use of natural language, that is, the ontology that a speaker accepts when using a language. Natural language ontology is part of “descriptive metaphysics,” to use Strawson’s term, or “naive metaphysics,” to use Fine’s term, that is, the metaphysics of appearances as opposed to foundational metaphysics, whose interest is in what there really is.
What sorts of entities natural language involves is closely linked to compositional semantics, namely what the contribution of occurrences of expressions in a sentence is taken to be. Most importantly, entities play a role as semantic values of referential terms, but also as implicit arguments of predicates and as parameters of evaluation.
Natural language appears to involve a particularly rich ontology of abstract, minor, derivative, and merely intentional objects, an ontology many philosophers are not willing to accept. At the same time, a serious investigation of the linguistic facts often reveals that natural language does not in fact involve the sort of ontology that philosophers had assumed it does.
Natural language ontology is concerned not only with the categories of entities that natural language commits itself to, but also with various metaphysical notions, for example the relation of part-whole, causation, material constitution, notions of existence, plurality and unity, and the mass-count distinction.
An important question regarding natural language ontology is what linguistic data it should take into account. Looking at the sorts of data that researchers who practice natural language ontology have in fact taken into account makes clear that it is only presuppositions, not assertions, that reflect the ontology implicit in natural language.
The ontology of language may be distinctive in that it may in part be driven specifically by language or the use of it in a discourse. Examples are pleonastic entities, discourse referents conceived of as entities of a sort, and an information-based notion of part structure involved in the semantics of plurals and mass nouns. Finally, there is the question of the universality of the ontology of natural language. Certainly, the same sort of reasoning should apply to consider it universal, in a suitable sense, as has been applied for the case of (generative) syntax.
Edwin L. Battistella
Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890–1938) was a Russian émigré scholar who settled in Austria in 1922, serving as Head of Slavic Linguistics at the University of Vienna and participating in the Prague Linguistics Circle. Trubetzkoy wrote nearly 150 works on phonology, prosody, comparative linguistics, linguistic geography, folklore, literature, history, and political theory. His posthumously published Grundzüge der Phonologie (Principles of Phonology) is regarded as one of the key works in the science of phonology. Here Trubetzkoy, influenced by Saussurean insights, elaborated on the linguistic function of speech sounds, the role of oppositions, and markedness. He was also concerned with developing universal laws of phonological patterning, and his work involves the discussion of a wide variety of languages. The Grundzüge became the classic statement of part of Prague School linguistics, which later influenced both European and American linguistics, notably in Chomsky and Halle’s The Sound Pattern of English. Less well-known are Trubetzkoy’s historical and political works on Eurasia and Eurasianism. In Europe and Mankind, Trubetzkoy argued that Russia was not culturally part of Europe but should evolve to form its own political systems based on its geography and common legacy with the peoples of Eurasia.
Howard Lasnik and Terje Lohndal
Noam Avram Chomsky is one of the central figures of modern linguistics. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. In 1945, Chomsky enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Zellig Harris (1909–1992), a leading Structuralist, through their shared political interests. His first encounter with Harris’s work was when he proof-read Harris’s book Methods in Structural Linguistics, published in 1951 but completed already in 1947. Chomsky grew dissatisfied with Structuralism and started to develop his own major idea that syntax and phonology are in part matters of abstract representations. This was soon combined with a psychobiological view of language as a unique part of the mind/brain.
Chomsky spent 1951–1955 as a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, after which he joined the faculty at MIT under the sponsorship of Morris Halle. He was promoted to full professor of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1961, appointed Ferrari Ward Professor of Linguistics in 1966, and Institute Professor in 1976, retiring in 2002. Chomsky is still remarkably active, publishing, teaching, and lecturing across the world.
In 1967, both the University of Chicago and the University of London awarded him honorary degrees, and since then he has been the recipient of scores of honors and awards. In 1988, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in basic science, created in 1984 in order to recognize work in areas not included among the Nobel Prizes. These honors are all a testimony to Chomsky’s influence and impact in linguistics and cognitive science more generally over the past 60 years. His contributions have of course also been heavily criticized, but nevertheless remain crucial to investigations of language.
Chomsky’s work has always centered around the same basic questions and assumptions, especially that human language is an inherent property of the human mind. The technical part of his research has continuously been revised and updated. In the 1960s phrase structure grammars were developed into what is known as the Standard Theory, which transformed into the Extended Standard Theory and X-bar theory in the 1970s. A major transition occurred at the end of the 1970s, when the Principles and Parameters Theory emerged. This theory provides a new understanding of the human language faculty, focusing on the invariant principles common to all human languages and the points of variation known as parameters. Its recent variant, the Minimalist Program, pushes the approach even further in asking why grammars are structured the way they are.
The noun-modifying clause construction (NMCC) in Japanese is a complex noun phrase in which a prenominal clause is dependent on the head noun. Naturally occurring instances of the construction demonstrate that a single structure, schematized as [[… predicate (finite/adnominal)] Noun], represents a wide range of semantic relations between the head noun and the dependent clause, encompassing some that would be expressed by structurally distinct constructions such as relative clauses, noun complement clauses, and other types of complex noun phrases in other languages, such as English. In that way, the Japanese NMCC demonstrates a clear case of the general noun-modifying construction (GNMCC), that is, an NMCC that has structural uniformity across interpretations that extend beyond the range of relative clauses.
One of the notable properties of the Japanese NMCC is that the modifying clause may consist only of the predicate, reflecting the fact that referential density is moderate in Japanese—arguments of a predicate are not required to be overtly expressed either in the main clause or in the modifying clause. Another property of the Japanese NMCC is that there is no explicit marking in the construction that indicates the grammatical or semantic relation between the head noun and the modifying clause. The two major constituents are simply juxtaposed to each other.
Successful construal of the intended interpretations of instances of such a construction, in the absence of explicit markings, likely relies on an aggregate of structural, semantic, and pragmatic factors, including the semantic content of the linguistic elements, verb valence information, and the interpreter’s real-world knowledge, in addition to the basic structural information.
Researchers with different theoretical approaches have studied Japanese NMCCs or subsets thereof. Syntactic approaches, inspired by generative grammar, have focused mostly on relative clauses and aimed to identify universally recognized syntactic principles. Studies that take the descriptive approach have focused on detailed descriptions and the classification of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring instances of the construction in Japanese. The third and most recent group of studies has emphasized the importance of semantics and pragmatics in accounting for a wide variety of naturally occurring instances.
The examination of Japanese NMCCs provides information about the nature of clausal noun modification and affords insights into languages beyond Japanese, as similar phenomena have reportedly been observed crosslinguistically to varying degrees.
Number is the category through which languages express information about the individuality, numerosity, and part structure of what we speak about. As a linguistic category it has a morphological, a morphosyntactic, and a semantic dimension, which are variously interrelated across language systems. Number marking can apply to a more or less restricted part of the lexicon of a language, being most likely on personal pronouns and human/animate nouns, and least on inanimate nouns. In the core contrast, number allows languages to refer to ‘many’ through the description of ‘one’; the sets referred to consist of tokens of the same type, but also of similar types, or of elements pragmatically associated with one named individual. In other cases, number opposes a reading of ‘one’ to a reading as ‘not one,’ which includes masses; when the ‘one’ reading is morphologically derived from the ‘not one,’ it is called a singulative. It is rare for a language to have no linguistic number at all, since a ‘one–many’ opposition is typically implied at least in pronouns, where the category of person discriminates the speaker as ‘one.’ Beyond pronouns, number is typically a property of nouns and/or determiners, although it can appear on other word classes by agreement. Verbs can also express part-structural properties of events, but this ‘verbal number’ is not isomorphic to nominal number marking. Many languages allow a variable proportion of their nominals to appear in a ‘general’ form, which expresses no number information. The main values of number-marked elements are singular and plural; dual and a much rarer trial also exist. Many languages also distinguish forms interpreted as paucals or as greater plurals, respectively, for small and usually cohesive groups and for generically large ones. A broad range of exponence patterns can express these contrasts, depending on the morphological profile of a language, from word inflections to freestanding or clitic forms; certain choices of classifiers also express readings that can be described as ‘plural,’ at least in certain interpretations. Classifiers can co-occur with other plurality markers, but not when these are obligatory as expressions of an inflectional paradigm, although this is debated, partly because the notion of classifier itself subsumes distinct phenomena. Many languages, especially those with classifiers, encode number not as an inflectional category, but through word-formation operations that express readings associated with plurality, including large size. Current research on number concerns all its morphological, morphosyntactic, and semantic dimensions, in particular the interrelations of them as part of the study of natural language typology and of the formal analysis of nominal phrases. The grammatical and semantic function of number and plurality are particularly prominent in formal semantics and in syntactic theory.
Old and Middle Japanese are the pre-modern periods of the attested history of the Japanese language. Old Japanese (OJ) is largely the language of the 8th century, with a modest, but still significant number of written sources, most of which is poetry. Middle Japanese is divided into two distinct periods, Early Middle Japanese (EMJ, 800–1200) and Late Middle Japanese (LMJ, 1200–1600). EMJ saw most of the significant sound changes that took place in the language, as well as profound influence from Chinese, whereas most grammatical changes took place between the end of EMJ and the end of LMJ. By the end of LMJ, the Japanese language had reached a form that is not significantly different from present-day Japanese.
OJ phonology was simple, both in terms of phoneme inventory and syllable structure, with a total of only 88 different syllables. In EMJ, the language became quantity sensitive, with the introduction of a long versus short syllables. OJ and EMJ had obligatory verb inflection for a number of modal and syntactic categories (including an important distinction between a conclusive and an (ad)nominalizing form), whereas the expression of aspect and tense was optional. Through late EMJ and LMJ this system changed completely to one without nominalizing inflection, but obligatory inflection for tense.
The morphological pronominal system of OJ was lost in EMJ, which developed a range of lexical and lexically based terms of speaker and hearer reference. OJ had a two-way (speaker–nonspeaker) demonstrative system, which in EMJ was replaced by a three-way (proximal–mesial–distal) system.
OJ had a system of differential object marking, based on specificity, as well as a word order rule that placed accusative marked objects before most subjects; both of these features were lost in EMJ. OJ and EMJ had genitive subject marking in subordinate clauses and in focused, interrogative and exclamative main clauses, but no case marking of subjects in declarative, optative, or imperative main clauses and no nominative marker. Through LMJ genitive subject marking was gradually circumscribed and a nominative case particle was acquired which could mark subjects in all types of clauses.
OJ had a well-developed system of complex predicates, in which two verbs jointly formed the predicate of a single clause, which is the source of the LMJ and NJ (Modern Japanese) verb–verb compound complex predicates. OJ and EMJ also had mono-clausal focus constructions that functionally were similar to clefts in English; these constructions were lost in LMJ.
The Northeast Asia is one of the unique points on the globe where there are many language isolates and portmanteau families. From a conservative point of view, the Japanese language is a member of such a portmanteau family that has recently and increasingly been called Japonic in the Western literature. While Japanese is unquestionably a member of this Japonic language family, which consists of two Japanese languages (Japanese itself and the moribund Hachijō language) and four or five relatively closely related Ryūkyūan languages (Amami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and possibly Yonaguni), attempts have also been made to establish a genetic relationship between Japanese and various other language families. Most of these attempts have been amateurish, a major exception being the Koreo-Japonic hypothesis, which still remains unproven as well. It is also quite likely that the Japonic language family (or, more precisely, Insular Japonic) is the only linguistic grouping whose genetic relationship can be established beyond any doubt. A genetic relationship is also likely to exist between Japonic and a number of fragmentarily attested languages that once flourished in the south and center of the Korean Peninsula, but that died out no later than 9th century A.D. The paucity of material available does not allow one to establish solid predictive-productive regular correspondences in many cases, but intuitively the genetic relationship seems to be a matter of fact. Anything beyond intuition, however, lies in the realm of conjecture and speculation. The alleged Koreo-Japonic relationship is best explained by a centuries-long contact relationship rather than by common origin, given such factors as the virtual absence of any kind of shared paradigmatic morphology, as well as by multiple problems in establishing the real (and not imaginable or made-to-fit) regular correspondences. The Japanese-“Altaic” hypothesis is even more speculative and far-fetched. Consequently, the conclusion is that the Japanese language or the Japonic language family has no demonstrable relationship with any other language family or language isolate on the planet.
Relative clauses of which the predicate contains a present, past, or passive participle can be used in a reduced form. Although it has been shown that participial relative clauses cannot always be considered to be non-complete variants of full relative clauses, they are generally called reduced relative clauses in the literature. Since they differ from full relative clauses in containing a non-finite predicate, they are also called non-finite relative clauses. Another type of non-finite relative clause is the infinitival relative clause. In English, in participial relative clauses, the antecedent noun is interpreted as the subject of the predicate of the relative clause. Because of this restriction, the status of relative clause has been put into doubt for participial adnominal modifiers, especially, because in a language such as English, they can occur in pre-nominal position, whereas a full relative clause cannot. While some linguists analyze both pre-nominal and post-nominal participles as verbal, others have argued that participles are essentially adjectival categories. In a third type of analysis, participles are divided into verbal and adjectival ones. This also holds for adnominal participles. Besides the relation to full relative clauses and the category of the participle, participial relative clauses raise a number of other interesting questions, which have been discussed in the literature. These questions concern the similarity or difference in interpretation of the pre-nominal and the post-nominal participial clause, restrictions on the type of verb used in past participial relative clauses, and similarities and differences between the syntax and semantics of participial clauses in English and other languages. Besides syntactic and semantic issues, participial relative clauses have raised other questions, such as their use in texts. Participial relative clauses have been studied from a diachronic and a stylistic point of view. It has been shown that the use of reduced forms such as participial relative clauses has increased over time and that, because of their condensed form, they are used more in academic styles than in colloquial speech. Nonetheless, they have proven to be used already by very young children, although in second language acquisition they are used late, because their condensed form is associated with an academic style of writing. Since passive or past participles often have the same form as the past tense, it has been shown that sentences containing a subject noun modified by a post-nominal past or passive participle are difficult to process, although certain factors may facilitate the processing of the sentence.
Cross-linguistic differences in passive formation and the differences between verbal and adjectival passives reveal some of the core properties of the passive. In earlier stages of the Principles and Parameters framework, differences in both these domains were taken as evidence that the grammar has two distinct components to build passives, namely the lexicon and the syntax. This intuition can be restated by adopting the view that all passive formation is syntactic. Indeed, it has been posited that there are two syntactic domains to build passives, and these two domains correlate with distinct properties of passive formations within a language and across languages.