Željko Bošković and Troy Messick
Economy considerations have always played an important role in the generative theory of grammar. They are particularly prominent in the most recent instantiation of this approach, the Minimalist Program, which explores the possibility that Universal Grammar is an optimal way of satisfying requirements that are imposed on the language faculty by the external systems that interface with the language faculty which is also characterized by optimal, computationally efficient design. In this respect, the operations of the computational system that produce linguistic expressions must be optimal in that they must satisfy general considerations of simplicity and efficient design. Simply put, the guiding principles here are (a) do something only if you need to and (b) if you do need to, do it in the most economical/efficient way. These considerations ban superfluous steps in derivations and superfluous symbols in representations. Under economy guidelines, movement takes place only when there is a need for it (with both syntactic and semantic considerations playing a role here), and when it does take place, it takes place in the most economical way: it is as short as possible and carries as little material as possible. Furthermore, economy is evaluated locally, on the basis of immediately available structure. The locality of syntactic dependencies is also enforced by minimal search and by limiting the number of syntactic objects and the amount of structure accessible in the derivation. This is achieved by transferring parts of syntactic structure to the interfaces during the derivation, the transferred parts not being accessible for further syntactic operations.
Displacement is a ubiquitous phenomenon in natural languages. Grammarians often speak of displacement in cases where the rules for the canonical word order of a language lead to the expectation of finding a word or phrase in a particular position in the sentence whereas it surfaces instead in a different position and the canonical position remains empty: ‘Which book did you buy?’ is an example of displacement because the noun phrase ‘which book’, which acts as the grammatical object in the question, does not occur in the canonical object position, which in English is after the verb. Instead, it surfaces at the beginning of the sentence and the object position remains empty. Displacement is often used as a diagnostic for constituent structure because it affects only (but not all) constituents. In the clear cases, displaced constituents show properties associated with two distinct linear and hierarchical positions. Typically, one of these two positions c-commands the other and the displaced element is pronounced in the c-commanding position. Displacement also shows strong interactions with the path between the empty canonical position and the position where the element is pronounced: one often encounters morphological changes along this path and evidence for structural placement of the displaced constituent, as well as constraints on displacement induced by the path.
The exact scope of displacement as an analytically unified phenomenon varies from theory to theory. If more then one type of syntactic displacement is recognized, the question of the interaction between movement types arises. Displacement phenomena are extensively studied by syntacticians. Their enduring interest derives from the fact that the complex interactions between displacement and other aspects of syntax offer a powerful probe into the inner workings and architecture of the human syntactic faculty.
Holger Diessel and Martin Hilpert
Until recently, theoretical linguists have paid little attention to the frequency of linguistic elements in grammar and grammatical development. It is a standard assumption of (most) grammatical theories that the study of grammar (or competence) must be separated from the study of language use (or performance). However, this view of language has been called into question by various strands of research that have emphasized the importance of frequency for the analysis of linguistic structure. In this research, linguistic structure is often characterized as an emergent phenomenon shaped by general cognitive processes such as analogy, categorization, and automatization, which are crucially influenced by frequency of occurrence.
There are many different ways in which frequency affects the processing and development of linguistic structure. Historical linguists have shown that frequent strings of linguistic elements are prone to undergo phonetic reduction and coalescence, and that frequent expressions and constructions are more resistant to structure mapping and analogical leveling than infrequent ones. Cognitive linguists have argued that the organization of constituent structure and embedding is based on the language users’ experience with linguistic sequences, and that the productivity of grammatical schemas or rules is determined by the combined effect of frequency and similarity. Child language researchers have demonstrated that frequency of occurrence plays an important role in the segmentation of the speech stream and the acquisition of syntactic categories, and that the statistical properties of the ambient language are much more regular than commonly assumed. And finally, psycholinguists have shown that structural ambiguities in sentence processing can often be resolved by lexical and structural frequencies, and that speakers’ choices between alternative constructions in language production are related to their experience with particular linguistic forms and meanings. Taken together, this research suggests that our knowledge of grammar is grounded in experience.
Gender is a grammatical feature, in a family with person, number, and case. In the languages that have grammatical gender—according to a representative typological sample, almost half of the languages in the world—it is a property that separates nouns into classes. These classes are often meaningful and often linked to biological sex, which is why many languages are said to have a “masculine” and a “feminine” gender. A typical example is Italian, which has masculine words for male persons (il bambino “the.
Across the languages of the world, gender systems vary widely. They differ in the number of classes, in the underlying assignment rules, and in how and where gender is marked. Since agreement is a definitional property, gender is generally absent in isolating languages as well as in young languages with little bound morphology, including sign languages. Therefore, gender is considered a mature phenomenon in language.
Gender interacts in various ways with other grammatical features. For example, it may be limited to the singular number or the third person, and it may be crosscut by case distinctions. These and other interrelations can complicate the task of figuring out a gender system in first or second language acquisition. Yet, children master gender early, making use of a broad variety of cues. By contrast, gender is famously difficult for second-language learners. This is especially true for adults and for learners whose first language does not have a gender system. Nevertheless, tests show that even for this group, native-like competence is possible to attain.
Linguistic change not only affects the lexicon and the phonology of words, it also operates on the grammar of a language. In this context, grammaticalization is concerned with the development of lexical items into markers of grammatical categories or, more generally, with the development of markers used for procedural cueing of abstract relationships out of linguistic items with concrete referential meaning. A well-known example is the English verb go in its function of a future marker, as in She is going to visit her friend. Phenomena like these are very frequent across the world’s languages and across many different domains of grammatical categories. In the last 50 years, research on grammaticalization has come up with a plethora of (a) generalizations, (b) models of how grammaticalization works, and (c) methodological refinements.
On (a): Processes of grammaticalization develop gradually, step by step, and the sequence of the individual stages follows certain clines as they have been generalized from cross-linguistic comparison (unidirectionality). Even though there are counterexamples that go against the directionality of various clines, their number seems smaller than assumed in the late 1990s.
On (b): Models or scenarios of grammaticalization integrate various factors. Depending on the theoretical background, grammaticalization and its results are motivated either by the competing motivations of economy vs. iconicity/explicitness in functional typology or by a change from movement to merger in the minimalist program. Pragmatic inference is of central importance for initiating processes of grammaticalization (and maybe also at later stages), and it activates mechanisms like reanalysis and analogy, whose status is controversial in the literature. Finally, grammaticalization does not only work within individual languages/varieties, it also operates across languages. In situations of contact, the existence of a certain grammatical category may induce grammaticalization in another language.
On (c): Even though it is hard to measure degrees of grammaticalization in terms of absolute and exact figures, it is possible to determine relative degrees of grammaticalization in terms of the autonomy of linguistic signs. Moreover, more recent research has come up with criteria for distinguishing grammaticalization and lexicalization (defined as the loss of productivity, transparency, and/or compositionality of former productive, transparent, and compositional structures).
In spite of these findings, there are still quite a number of questions that need further research. Two questions to be discussed address basic issues concerning the overall properties of grammaticalization. (1) What is the relation between constructions and grammaticalization? In the more traditional view, constructions are seen as the syntactic framework within which linguistic items are grammaticalized. In more recent approaches based on construction grammar, constructions are defined as combinations of form and meaning. Thus, grammaticalization can be seen in the light of constructionalization, i.e., the creation of new combinations of form and meaning. Even though constructionalization covers many apects of grammaticalization, it does not exhaustively cover the domain of grammaticalization. (2) Is grammaticalization cross-linguistically homogeneous, or is there a certain range of variation? There is evidence from East and mainland Southeast Asia that there is cross-linguistic variation to some extent.
While in phonology Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) dialects preserved the phonological system of Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morphosyntax underwent far-reaching changes, which altered fundamentally the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan (NIA). Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the Late MIA period (ca. 5th–12th centuries
(a) We shall start with the restructuring of the nominal case system in terms of the reduction of the number of cases from seven to four. This phonologically motivated process resulted ultimately in the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period). (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated. (c) In the verbal system we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the “weakening” of s > h > Ø. (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the “absolutive” vs. “oblique” case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently with the development toward the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering in the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan.
On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective–Perfective–Perfect (in morphological terms Present–Aorist–Perfect). The NIA Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for a deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.
David R. Mortensen
Hmong-Mien (also known as Miao-Yao) is a bipartite family of minority languages spoken primarily in China and mainland Southeast Asia. The two branches, called Hmongic and Mienic by most Western linguists and Miao and Yao by Chinese linguists, are both compact groups (phylogenetically if not geographically). Although they are uncontroversially distinct from one another, they bear a strong mutual affinity. But while their internal relationships are reasonably well established, there is no unanimity regarding their wider genetic affiliations, with many Chinese scholars insisting on Hmong-Mien membership in the Sino-Tibetan superfamily, some Western scholars suggesting a relationship to Austronesian and/or Tai-Kradai, and still others suggesting a relationship to Mon-Khmer. A plurality view appears to be that Hmong-Mien bears no special relationship to any surviving language family.
Hmong-Mien languages are typical—in many respects—of the non-Sino-Tibetan languages of Southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. However, they possess a number of properties that make them stand out. Many neighboring languages are tonal, but Hmong-Mien languages are, on average, more so (in terms of the number of tones). While some other languages in the area have small-to-medium consonant inventories, Hmong-Mien languages (and especially Hmongic languages) often have very large consonant inventories with rare classes of sounds like uvulars and voiceless sonorants. Furthermore, while many of their neighbors are morphologically isolating, few language groups display as little affixation as Hmong-Mien languages. They are largely head-initial, but they deviate from this generalization in their genitive-noun constructions and their relative clauses (which vary in position and structure, sometimes even within the same language).
Noun incorporation (NI) is a grammatical construction where a nominal, usually bearing the semantic role of an object, has been incorporated into a verb to form a complex verb or predicate. Traditionally, incorporation was considered to be a word formation process, similar to compounding or cliticization. The fact that a syntactic entity (object) was entering into the lexical process of word formation was theoretically problematic, leading to many debates about the true nature of NI as a lexical or syntactic process. The analytic complexity of NI is compounded by the clear connections between NI and other processes such as possessor raising, applicatives, and classification systems and by its relation with case, agreement, and transitivity. In some cases, it was noted that no morpho-phonological incorporation is discernable beyond perhaps adjacency and a reduced left periphery for the noun. Such cases were termed pseudo noun incorporation, as they exhibit many properties of NI, minus any actual morpho-phonological incorporation. On the semantic side, it was noted that NI often correlates with a particular interpretation in which the noun is less referential and the predicate is more general. This led semanticists to group together all phenomena with similar semantics, whether or not they involve morpho-phonological incorporation. The role of cases of morpho-phonological NI that do not exhibit this characteristic semantics, i.e., where the incorporated nominal can be referential and the action is not general, remains a matter of debate. The interplay of phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics that is found in NI, as well as its lexical overtones, has resulted in a wide range of analyses at all levels of the grammar. What all NI constructions share is that according to various diagnostics, a thematic element, usually correlating with an internal argument, functions to a lesser extent as an independent argument and instead acts as part of a predicate. In addition to cases of incorporation between verbs and internal arguments, there are also some cases of incorporation of subjects and adverbs, which remain less well understood.