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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Ljuba N. Veselinova
The term coordination refers to the juxtaposition of two or more conjuncts often linked by a conjunction such as and or or. The conjuncts (e.g., our friend and your teacher in Our friend and your teacher sent greetings) may be words or phrases of any type. They are a defining property of coordination, while the presence or absence of a conjunction depends on the specifics of the particular language. As a general phenomenon, coordination differs from subordination in that the conjuncts are typically symmetric in many ways: they often belong to like syntactic categories, and if nominal, each carries the same case. Additionally, if there is extraction, this must typically be out of all conjuncts in parallel, a phenomenon known as Across-the-Board extraction. Extraction of a single conjunct, or out of a single conjunct, is prohibited by the Coordinate Structure Constraint. Despite this overall symmetry, coordination does sometimes behave in an asymmetric fashion. Under certain circumstances, the conjuncts may be of unlike categories or extraction may occur out of one conjunct, but not another, thus yielding apparent violations of the Coordinate Structure Constraint. In addition, case and agreement show a wide range of complex and sometimes asymmetric behavior cross-linguistically. This tension between the symmetric and asymmetric properties of coordination is one of the reasons that coordination has remained an interesting analytical puzzle for many decades.
Within the general area of coordination, a number of specific sentence types have generated much interest. One is Gapping, in which two sentences are conjoined, but material (often the verb) is missing from the middle of the second conjunct, as in Mary ate beans and John _ potatoes. Another is Right Node Raising, in which shared material from the right edge of sentential conjuncts is placed in the right periphery of the entire sentence, as in The chefs prepared __ and the customers ate __ [a very elaborately constructed dessert]. Finally, some languages have a phenomenon known as comitative coordination, in which a verb has two arguments, one morphologically plural and the other comitative (e.g., with the preposition with), but the plural argument may be understood as singular. English does not have this phenomenon, but if it did, a sentence like We went to the movies with John could be understood as John and I went to the movies.
Cyclicity in syntax constitutes a property of derivations in which syntactic operations apply bottom-up in the production of ever larger constituents. The formulation of a principle of grammar that guarantees cyclicity depends on whether structure is built top-down with phrase structure rules or bottom-up with a transformation Merge. Considerations of minimal and efficient computation motivate the latter, as well as the formulation of the cyclic principle as a No Tampering Condition on structure-building operations (Section 3.3) without any reference to special cyclic domains in which operations apply (as in the formulation of the Strict Cycle Condition (Section 2) and its predecessors (Section 1)) or any reference to extending a phrase marker (the Extension Condition (Section 3)). Ultimately, the empirical effects of a No Tampering Condition on structure building, which conform to strict cyclicity, follow from the formulation of the Merge operation as strictly binary. This leaves as open questions whether displacement (movement) must involve covert intermediate steps (successive cyclic movement) and whether derivations of the two separate interface representations (Phonetic Form and Logical Form) occur in parallel as a single cycle.
K. A. Jayaseelan
The Dravidian languages have a long-distance reflexive anaphor taan. (It is taan in Tamil and Malayalam, taanu in Kannada and tanu in Telugu.) As is the case with other long-distance anaphors, it is subject-oriented; it is also [+human] and third person. Interestingly, it is infelicitous if bound within the minimal clause when it is an argument of the verb. (That is, it seems to obey Principle B of the binding theory.) Although it is subject-oriented in the normal case, it can be bound by a non-subject if the verb is a “psych predicate,” that is, a predicate that denotes a feeling; in this case, it can be bound by the experiencer of the feeling. Again, in a discourse that depicts the thoughts, feelings, or point of view of a protagonist—the so-called “logophoric contexts”—it can be coreferential with the protagonist even if the latter is mentioned only in the preceding discourse (not within the sentence). These latter facts suggest that the anaphor is in fact coindexed with the perspective of the clause (rather than with the subject per se). In cases where this anaphor needs to be coindexed with the minimal subject (to express a meaning like ‘John loves himself’), the Dravidian languages exhibit two strategies to circumvent the Principle B effect. Malayalam adds an emphasis marker tanne to the anaphor; taan tanne can corefer with the minimal subject. This strategy parallels the strategy of European languages and East Asian languages (cf. Scandinavian seg selv). The three other major Dravidian languages—Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada—use a verbal reflexive: they add a light verb koL- (lit. ‘take’) to the verbal complex, which has the effect of reflexivizing the transitive predicate. (It either makes the verb intransitive or gives it a self-benefactive meaning.)
The Dravidian languages also have reciprocal and distributive anaphors. These have bipartite structures. An example of a Malayalam reciprocal anaphor is oral … matte aaL (‘one person … other person’). The distributive anaphor in Malayalam has the form awar-awar (‘they-they’); it is a reduplicated pronoun. The reciprocals and distributives are strict anaphors in the sense that they apparently obey Principle A; they must be bound in the domain of the minimal subject. They are not subject-oriented.
A noteworthy fact about the pronominal system of Dravidian is that the third person pronouns come in proximal-distal pairs, the proximal pronoun being used to refer to something nearby and the distal pronoun being used elsewhere.
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.