Nora C. England
Mayan languages are spoken by over 5 million people in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. There are around 30 different languages today, ranging in size from fairly large (about a million speakers) to very small (fewer than 30 speakers). All Mayan languages are endangered given that at least some children in some communities are not learning the language, and two languages have disappeared since European contact. Mayas developed the most elaborated and most widely attested writing system in the Americas (starting about 300 BC).
The sounds of Mayan languages consist of a voiceless stop and affricate series with corresponding glottalized stops (either implosive and ejective) and affricates, glottal stop, voiceless fricatives (including h in some of them inherited from Proto-Maya), two to three nasals, three to four approximants, and a five vowel system with contrasting vowel length (or tense/lax distinctions) in most languages. Several languages have developed contrastive tone.
The major word classes in Mayan languages include nouns, verbs, adjectives, positionals, and affect words. The difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs is rigidly maintained in most languages. They usually use the same aspect markers (but not always). Intransitive verbs only indicate their subjects while transitive verbs indicate both subjects and objects. Some languages have a set of status suffixes which is different for the two classes. Positionals are a root class whose most characteristic word form is a non-verbal predicate. Affect words indicate impressions of sounds, movements, and activities. Nouns have a number of different subclasses defined on the basis of characteristics when possessed, or the structure of compounds. Adjectives are formed from a small class of roots (under 50) and many derived forms from verbs and positionals.
Predicate types are transitive, intransitive, and non-verbal. Non-verbal predicates are based on nouns, adjectives, positionals, numbers, demonstratives, and existential and locative particles. They are distinct from verbs in that they do not take the usual verbal aspect markers. Mayan languages are head marking and verb initial; most have VOA flexible order but some have VAO rigid order. They are morphologically ergative and also have at least some rules that show syntactic ergativity. The most common of these is a constraint on the extraction of subjects of transitive verbs (ergative) for focus and/or interrogation, negation, or relativization. In addition, some languages make a distinction between agentive and non-agentive intransitive verbs. Some also can be shown to use obviation and inverse as important organizing principles. Voice categories include passive, antipassive and agent focus, and an applicative with several different functions.
Laura A. Michaelis
Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).
The Dravidian languages, spoken mainly in southern India and south Asia, were identified as a separate language family between 1816 and 1856. Four of the 26 Dravidian languages, namely Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, have long literary traditions, the earliest dating back to the 1st century
A typical characteristic of Dravidian, which is also an areal characteristic of south Asian languages, is that experiencers and inalienable possessors are case-marked dative. Another is the serialization of verbs by the use of participles, and the use of light verbs to indicate aspectual meaning such as completion, self- or nonself-benefaction, and reflexivization. Subjects, and arguments in general (e.g., direct and indirect objects), may be nonovert. So is the copula, except in Malayalam.
A number of properties of Dravidian are of interest from a universalist perspective, beginning with the observation that not all syntactic categories N, V, A, and P are primitive. Dravidian postpositions are nominal or verbal in origin. A mere 30 Proto-Dravidian roots have been identified as adjectival; the adjectival function is performed by inflected verbs (participles) and nouns. The nominal encoding of experiences (e.g., as fear rather than afraid/afeared) and the absence of the verb have arguably correlate with the appearance of dative case on experiencers. “Possessed” or genitive-marked N may fulfill the adjectival function, as noticed for languages like Ulwa (a less exotic parallel is the English of-possessive construction: circles of light, cloth of gold). More uniquely perhaps, Kannada instantiates dative-marked N as predicative adjectives. A recent argument that Malayalam verbs originate as dative-marked N suggests both that N is the only primitive syntactic category, and the seminal role of the dative case.
Other important aspects of Dravidian morphosyntax to receive attention are anaphors and pronouns (not discussed here; see separate article, anaphora in Dravidian), in particular the long-distance anaphor taan and the verbal reflexive morpheme; question (wh-) words and the question/disjunction morphemes, which combine in a semantically transparent way to form quantifier words like someone; the use of reduplication for distributive quantification; and the occurrence of ‘monstrous agreement’ (first-person agreement in clauses embedded under a speech predicate, triggered by matrix third-person antecedents).
Traditionally, agreement has been considered the finiteness marker in Dravidian. Modals, and a finite form of negation, also serve to mark finiteness. The nonfinite verbal complement to the finite negative may give the negative clause a tense interpretation. Dravidian thus attests matrix nonfinite verbs in finite clauses, challenging the equation of finiteness with tense.
The Dravidian languages are considered wh-in situ languages. However, wh-words in Malayalam appear in a pre-verbal position in the unmarked word order. The apparently rightward movement of some wh-arguments could be explained by assuming a universal VO order, and wh-movement to a preverbal focus phrase. An alternative analysis is that the verb undergoes V-to-C movement.
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.
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.
Mark de Vries
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
A relative clause is a clausal modifier that relates to a constituent of the sentence, typically a noun phrase. This is the antecedent or “head” of the relative construction. What makes the configuration special is that the subordinate clause contains a variable that is bound by the head. For instance, in the English sentence Peter recited a poem that Anne liked, the object of the embedded verb liked is relativized. In this example the relative clause is a restrictive property, and the possible reference of a poem is narrowed to poems that Anne likes. However, it is also possible to construct a relative clause non-restrictively. If the example is changed to Peter recited this poem by Keats, which Anne likes, the relative clause provides additional information about the antecedent, and the internal variable, here spelled out by the relative pronoun which, is necessarily coreferential with the antecedent.
Almost all languages make use of (restrictive) relative constructions in one way or another. Various strategies of building relative clauses have been distinguished, which correlate at least partially with particular properties of languages, including word order patterns and the availability of certain pronouns. Relative clauses can follow or precede the head, or even include the head. Some languages make use of relative pronouns; others use resumptive pronouns, or simply leave the relativized argument unpronounced in the subordinate clause. Furthermore, there is cross-linguistic variation in the range of syntactic functions that can be relativized. Notably, more than one type of relative clause can be present in one language. Special types of relative constructions include free relatives (with an implied pronominal antecedent), cleft constructions, and correlatives.
There is an extensive literature on the structural analysis of relative constructions. Questions that are debated include: How can different subtypes be distinguished? How does the internal variable relate to the antecedent? How can reconstruction and anti-reconstruction effects be explained? At what structural level is the relative clause attached to the antecedent or the matrix clause?
Veneeta Dayal and Deepak Alok
Natural language allows questioning into embedded clauses. One strategy for doing so involves structures like the following: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 … ti …]]], where a wh-phrase that thematically belongs to the embedded clause appears in the matrix scope position. A possible answer to such a question must specify values for the fronted wh-phrase. This is the extraction strategy seen in languages like English. An alternative strategy involves a structure in which there is a distinct wh-phrase in the matrix clause. It is manifested in two types of structures. One is a close analog of extraction, but for the extra wh-phrase: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 whj [TP…tj…]]]]. The other simply juxtaposes two questions, rather than syntactically subordinating the second one: [CP-3 [CP-1 whi [TP…]] [CP-2 whj [TP…]]]. In both versions of the second strategy, the wh-phrase in CP-1 is invariant, typically corresponding to the wh-phrase used to question propositional arguments. There is no restriction on the type or number of wh-phrases in CP-2. Possible answers must specify values for all the wh-phrases in CP-2. This strategy is variously known as scope marking, partial wh movement or expletive wh questions. Both strategies can occur in the same language. German, for example, instantiates all three possibilities: extraction, subordinated, as well as sequential scope marking. The scope marking strategy is also manifested in in-situ languages. Scope marking has been subjected to 30 years of research and much is known at this time about its syntactic and semantic properties. Its pragmatics properties, however, are relatively under-studied. The acquisition of scope marking, in relation to extraction, is another area of ongoing research. One of the reasons why scope marking has intrigued linguists is because it seems to defy central tenets about the nature of wh scope taking. For example, it presents an apparent mismatch between the number of wh expressions in the question and the number of expressions whose values are specified in the answer. It poses a challenge for our understanding of how syntactic structure feeds semantic interpretation and how alternative strategies with similar functions relate to each other.
Ljuba N. Veselinova
The term suppletion is used to indicate the unpredictable encoding of otherwise regular semantic or grammatical relations. Standard examples in English include the present and past tense of the verb go, cf. go vs. went, or the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives such as good or bad, cf. good vs. better vs. best, or bad vs. worse vs. worst.
The complementary distribution of different forms to express a paradigmatic contrast has been noticed already in early grammatical traditions. However, the idea that a special form would supply missing forms in a paradigm was first introduced by the neogrammarian Hermann Osthoff, in his work of 1899. The concept of suppletion was consolidated in modern linguistics by Leonard Bloomfield, in 1926. Since then, the notion has been applied to both affixes and stems. In addition to the application of the concept to linguistic units of varying morpho-syntactic status, such as affixes, or stems of different lexical classes such as, for instance, verbs, adjectives, or nouns, the student should also be prepared to encounter frequent discrepancies between uses of the concept in the theoretical literature and its application in more descriptively oriented work. There are models in which the term suppletion is restricted to exceptions to inflectional patterns only; consequently, exceptions to derivational patterns are not accepted as instantiations of the phenomenon. Thus, the comparative degrees of adjectives will be, at best, less prototypical examples of suppletion.
Treatments of the phenomenon vary widely, to the point of being complete opposites. A strong tendency exists to regard suppletion as an anomaly, a historical artifact, and generally of little theoretical interest. A countertendency is to view the phenomenon as challenging, but nonetheless very important for adequate theory formation. Finally, there are scholars who view suppletion as a functionally motivated result of language change.
For a long time, the database on suppletion, similarly to many other phenomena, was restricted to Indo-European languages. With the solidifying of wider cross-linguistic research and linguistic typology since the 1990s, the database on suppletion has been substantially extended. Large-scale cross-linguistic studies have shown that the phenomenon is observed in many different languages around the globe. In addition, it appears as a systematic cross-linguistic phenomenon in that it can be correlated with well-defined language areas, language families, specific lexemic groups, and specific slots in paradigms. The latter can be shown to follow general markedness universals. Finally, the lexemes that show suppletion tend to have special functions in both lexicon and grammar.
Heidi Harley and Shigeru Miyagawa
Ditransitive predicates select for two internal arguments, and hence minimally entail the participation of three entities in the event described by the verb. Canonical ditransitive verbs include give, show, and teach; in each case, the verb requires an agent (a giver, shower, or teacher, respectively), a theme (the thing given, shown, or taught), and a goal (the recipient, viewer, or student). The property of requiring two internal arguments makes ditransitive verbs syntactically unique. Selection in generative grammar is often modeled as syntactic sisterhood, so ditransitive verbs immediately raise the question of whether a verb may have two sisters, requiring a ternary-branching structure, or whether one of the two internal arguments is not in a sisterhood relation with the verb.
Another important property of English ditransitive constructions is the two syntactic structures associated with them. In the so-called “double object construction,” or DOC, the goal and theme both are simple NPs and appear following the verb in the order V-goal-theme. In the “dative construction,” the goal is a PP rather than an NP and follows the theme in the order V-theme-to goal. Many ditransitive verbs allow both structures (e.g., give John a book/give a book to John). Some verbs are restricted to appear only in one or the other (e.g. demonstrate a technique to the class/*demonstrate the class a technique; cost John $20/*cost $20 to John). For verbs which allow both structures, there can be slightly different interpretations available for each. Crosslinguistic results reveal that the underlying structural distinctions and their interpretive correlates are pervasive, even in the face of significant surface differences between languages. The detailed analysis of these questions has led to considerable progress in generative syntax. For example, the discovery of the hierarchical relationship between the first and second arguments of a ditransitive has been key in motivating the adoption of binary branching and the vP hypothesis. Many outstanding questions remain, however, and the syntactic encoding of ditransitivity continues to inform the development of grammatical theory.
Erich R. Round
The non–Pama-Nyugan, Tangkic languages were spoken until recently in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. The most extensively documented are Lardil, Kayardild, and Yukulta. Their phonology is notable for its opaque, word-final deletion rules and extensive word-internal sandhi processes. The morphology contains complex relationships between sets of forms and sets of functions, due in part to major historical refunctionalizations, which have converted case markers into markers of tense and complementization and verbal suffixes into case markers. Syntactic constituency is often marked by inflectional concord, resulting frequently in affix stacking. Yukulta in particular possesses a rich set of inflection-marking possibilities for core arguments, including detransitivized configurations and an inverse system. These relate in interesting ways historically to argument marking in Lardil and Kayardild. Subordinate clauses are marked for tense across most constituents other than the subject, and such tense marking is also found in main clauses in Lardil and Kayardild, which have lost the agreement and tense-marking second-position clitic of Yukulta. Under specific conditions of co-reference between matrix and subordinate arguments, and under certain discourse conditions, clauses may be marked, on all or almost all words, by complementization markers, in addition to inflection for case and tense.