LINGUIST List 14.390

Sat Feb 8 2003

Review: Historical Ling: Butt & Holloway King (2001)

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  1. hassler, Time over Matter. Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax

Message 1: Time over Matter. Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax

Date: Fri, 07 Feb 2003 13:49:20 +0000
From: hassler <hasslerrz.uni-potsdam.de>
Subject: Time over Matter. Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax

Butt, Miriam & Tracy Holloway King, ed. (2001) Time over Matter.
Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax. CSLI Publications. Center for
the Study of Language and Information, Leland Stanford Junior
University, paperback ISBN 1-57586-282-4, VI+246pp, Studies in
Constraint-Based Lexicalism.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1646.html


Gerda Hassler, Institut f�r Romanistik, Universit�t Potsdam

Content

This volume comprises seven papers examining problems in historical
(morpho)syntax from the perspective of Lexical- Functional Grammar
(LFG). The first paper written by Nigel Vincent entitled ''LFG as a
Model of Syntactic Change'' serves as an introduction. He seeks to
develop a general case for the contribution that a lexically-based
correspondence model of grammar can make to our understanding of
morphosyntactic change. He starts with the discussion of continuity
and discontinuity in language change and points out that Lightfoot
criticises grammaticalisation theorists for their insistence on
continuity and directionality in change, while they in turn criticise
him for ignoring the challenge that grammaticalisation data seem to
pose to discontinuous models. He argues that LFG has not come
encumbered with the ideological crust that has accreted around much of
the current debate on language change. It is a model which allows a
reconciliation of the legitimate, twentieth-century concern for
linguistics to be a formal discipline with the inevitable fuzziness
that comes from the anchoring of language at least in part in the
pragmatically and semantically determined goals of language use. The
word ''functional'' has been incorporated into the name of at least
two other grammatical theories, namely Halliday's Functional Grammar
and Simon Dik's Functional Grammar. While these ''functionalist''
views are committed to seeing language primarily in its socio-
communicative dimension, the architecture of LFG opens up the
possibility that ''functional'' in the sense of functionalist
considerations might be involved in the principles which dictate the
correspondence between structures. Discussing Lightfoot's position,
the author argues that a differential granularity of change is what is
missing in much of the generative polemicisation about change. LFG is
presented as a model that allows space both for large-scale and
small-scale shifts. In the theory of grammaticalisation, Vincent
holds the view that sees change as having a direction. But the key
question is whether this frequently observed directionality is built
into the definition of grammaticalisation or whether it is an
empirical hypothesis thrown up by research within this framework. The
phenomenon of grammaticalisation, and especially its directional
asymmetry, are real and in need of explanation. Finally, Vincent
argues that they can be modelled in LFG. Vincent discusses several
points dividing researchers, such as Optimality Theory. All Romance
languages, for example, exhibit a class of items known as clitics, and
in all the modern languages these items occupy one or more of a number
of syntactically determined positions in relation to the verb. In
Latin, the ancestors of the modern pronouns for the most part followed
Wackernage's law and occurred in second position in their clause. Put
at its most simple, the Latin distribution was prosodically determined
whereas the modern distribution is dictated by syntactic principles,
albeit different ones in different languages, and at different times
in the history of the respective language. Anderson (2000) shows how
in an analogous situation in Serbo-Croat the second position effect is
economically and naturally derived through the interaction of two
constraints. Discussing the advantages of LFG in explaining language
change, Vincent points out that it avoids many vices of other
theories: it does not beg the issue of realisation and thus can
provide a representational basis for competing variants out of which
change can grow. It is not forced to see morphosyntactic change as the
response to the erosive effects of sound change.

The second paper, written by Cynthia Allen, deals with ''The
Development of a New Passive in English''. In such passives,
frequently called ''indirect'' or ''recipient'' passives (example: He
was given a book), it is not the theme, but the recipient that is
treated as the subject. LFG offers a simple explanation of the timing
of the appearance of this new construction, while the traditional
assumption that case- marking ambiguity directly led to a re-analysis
does not. Allen argues that the introduction of the recipient passive
is in fact evidence of the re-analysis, but the re-analysis was not of
the fronted indirect object as a subject, but it was the re-analysis
of the indirect object in active sentences as a direct object. This
change was gradual and proceeded at a different pace with individual
verbs. Allen assumes a more indirect connection between the loss of
case marking and the introduction of the new construction, since it is
highly plausible that the loss of case marking encouraged speakers to
rely more and more on constituent order for sorting out the
grammatical and semantic relations of a sentence. The immediate
trigger for the re-analysis, however, was the fixing of constituent
order. 

The subject of Julia Barron's paper is ''Perception and Raising Verbs:
Synchronic and Diachronic Relationships''. She examines the
relationship between verbs denoting visual perception or visible
appearance and subject-to-subject raising verbs denoting epistemic
judgment. She looks at synchronic relations between verbs of
perception and raising verbs, and then she shows how one notion of
semantic bleaching may correspond to the historical dissociation of
function and theta-role. Semantic bleaching, however, is not a sudden
process, but a gradual one. Given that vision is the primary sensory
source of intellection, it is not surprising that in many languages
the verb meaning ''to see'' is related to a verb meaning ''to seem''
in its sense of ''to be perceived as''. But in many cases the subject
of the equivalent of ''seems'' is some kind of stimulus providing
visual information. In other cases the subject simply fulfils
syntactic and information structure requirements and is non- thematic,
and hence the structure is that of a raising construction.

Miriam Butt has contributed a paper entitled ''A Re- examination of
the Accusative to Ergative Shift in Indo- Aryan''. She undertakes a
re-examination of the purported development of a split ergative system
in Urdu/Hindi from an accusative system in Sanskrit. This shift is
generally taken to be connected to a passive structure that is
interpreted as active. A closer look at the historical facts reveals
that some of the essential ingredients cannot be substantiated. The
paper collects the problems with the hypothesis of a case system shift
for Indo-Iran in a coherent package while adding further findings. The
hypothesis that instrumental -ina was the direct ancestor of the
ergative ''ne'' has been shown to be questionable. An alternative
hypothesis is that the ergative is a calque from a dative form that
was used either in a dialect of Hindi or in a neighbouring related
language. The alternative hypothesis put forward by Butt is that
Urdu/Hindi represents a continuation of a system of case marking which
employed a rich variety of non-nominative subject marking, but whose
structural alignment is underlyingly accusative: subjects group
together vs. objects with regard to a number of syntactic
properties. She hypothesises that many of the modern case markers were
drawn from a set of postpositions and that they gradually took over
the functions of case markers as the Sanskrit inflectional case
marking collapsed.

In ''Representation and Variation: On the Development of Romance
Auxiliary Syntax'' Christoph Schwarze endeavours to expound on how to
construct the model of linguistic competence so as to encompass
historical change and that this is not achieved simply by attributing
change to the conditions under which children acquire language. He
starts with general assumptions about linguistic change. If there are
no parameters, but only lexically encoded instantiations of Universal
Grammar, syntactic change is also lexical change, and there is no
reason to exclude the possibility that the variations from which
language change originates can occur at any stage of an individual's
life. Language change can then be defined as diachronic variation of
the mentallexicon, socially shared through communication. Schwarze
argues that LFG makes it possible to describe abstract grammatical
information, such as tense, regardless of whether that information is
expressed by morphology or syntax. This is regarded as an advantage
for the analysis of the rise of Romance compound tenses and
periphrastic passives, which is a process in which morphology is
replaced by syntax. Schwarze first characterises the current states of
the auxiliaries in Spanish, Italian and French, thereafter he sketches
the developments that have led to these states. The emergence of the
Romance auxiliary syntax in a period of orality is paramount to
changes of lexically encoded properties of those Latin verbs which
were to become Romance auxiliaries and of the Latin past passive and
deponent participles. Of the two types of variation discussed in this
study, local variation is more responsible for innovations, while
global variation accounts for the further fate of innovations.
Finally, Schwarze points out that global structures vary under the
influence of conflicting principles of learnability.

In ''Preferred Word Order and the Grammaticalization of Associated
Path'', Jane Simpson studies the apparent paradox of some Australian
languages that they have free word order, and yet they have rich
morphological structure which shows evidence of grammaticalisation,
that is, of bound morphemes which appear historically to have been
free words. She first illustrates the cline of grammaticalisation of
associated path in morphology, Then she describes a synchronic
participle-verb sequence which provides a model for the move from
phrase sequence towards word. Her focus is on the path that leads to
grammaticalisation, and in particular the ''point of shift'' where
syntactic re-analysis takes place. 

In the final paper Ida Toivonen discusses ''Language Change, Lexical
Features and Finnish Possessors''. The data considered comes from the
Finnish possessive system, which involves both independent pronouns
and bound affixes which interact in a complex manner. Morphosyntactic
change is described with reference to lexical features. She wants t
demonstrate that the formal framework of Lexical-Functional Grammar
provides all the necessary tools. Exploring the origin of the lexical
split, she shows how the present lexical analysis can help us
understand the evolution of the modern system. Further changes that
have occurred in various Finnish dialects can easily be captured with
lexical features.


Critical evaluation

The contributions of this book have shown that LFG can accommodate
both sudden and gradual syntactic change. They explain changes as
the result of a re-analysis of grammatical relations and offer new
insight into this process. The language phenomena chosen in the book
represent fundamental changes in the syntax of languages, and for this
reason, may not be representative for language change as a whole. The
authors of this volume remain convinced that modern linguistics, with
its focus on structural data and on an underlying cognitive conception
of competence, has achieved genuine scientific progress, and that it
is possible to integrate issues that were central in the nineteenth
century. The book is interesting for everyone who works on language
change and grammaticalisation. The focus on LFG is not as prominent in
all the contributions as one might expect it to be, but the different
approaches are presented in a convincing way. There are several
unfortunate typing errors, especially in the introductory paper and in
the numbering of the sections of the last one. Altogether, the volume
shows that a detailed and specific theory of the lexicon can be useful
for understanding morphosyntactic change.


References

Anderson, Stephen. 2000. Towards an Optimal Account of Second
Position. In: Optimality Theory: Phonology, Syntax and
Acquisition. Ed. Joost Dekkers, Frank van der Leeuw and Jeroen van de
Weijer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 302-333.

Bresnan, Joan. 2001. Lexical Functional Syntax. Oxford: Blackwell.

Butt, Miriam� and Tracy Holloway� King. 2002. The Proceedings of the
LFG '02 Conference. National Technical University of Athens. CSLI
Publications. http://cslipublications.stanford.edu/LFG/7/lfg02.html

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution
of Grammar, Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the
World. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Lightfoot, David. 1991. How to Set Parameters. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Lightfoot, David. 1999. The Development of Language. Acquisition,
Change, and Evolution. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Newmeyer, Frederick. 1008. Language Form and Language
Function. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Newmeyer, Frederick. 2001. Deconstructing Grammaticalization. In:
Language Sciences 23: 187-229.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Gerda Hassler is a professor of linguistics in the Department of
Romance Languages of the University of Potsdam. Her main areas of
research interests include syntax, semantics, and the history of
linguistics.
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