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LINGUIST List 23.4416

Mon Oct 22 2012

Diss: Germanic/ Historical Linguistics/ Syntax: Walkden: 'Syntactic Reconstruction and Proto-Germanic'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 22-Oct-2012
From: George Walkden <george.walkdengmail.com>
Subject: Syntactic Reconstruction and Proto-Germanic
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Institution: Cambridge University
Program: PhD in Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: George Walkden

Dissertation Title: Syntactic Reconstruction and Proto-Germanic

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Germanic

Dissertation Director:
David Willis

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis investigates methods, possibilities and limitations in the
reconstruction of syntax in a framework which holds that the object of
inquiry is knowledge of language and which acknowledges that the
transmission of that knowledge is discontinuous. The main objections
to syntactic reconstruction raised in the literature are assessed, and it
is argued that the reconstruction of syntax is qualitatively different from
lexical-phonological reconstruction due to the so-called
'correspondence problem'; it is also suggested that other objections to
syntactic reconstruction based on assumed lack of parallel between
syntax and phonology, such as the supposed absence of directional
tendencies and inability to identify contact influence, are either illusory
or reduce to the correspondence problem. It is argued that the
approach taken in current Minimalist theories of syntactic variation, in
which all such variation is attributed to the properties of lexical items,
sheds light on the problem of syntactic reconstruction by enabling a
clear comparison between syntactic and phonological variation, and
opens the door for syntactic reconstruction as lexical reconstruction.
Practical solutions for circumventing the correspondence problem are
also discussed, in particular the use of both distributional properties of
lexical items and the phonological forms of such items in order to
establish cognacy.

The bulk of the thesis is devoted to case studies from the early
Germanic languages intended to illustrate this methodology, dealing
with verb position in main clauses, the syntax of the wh-system, and
the (non-)occurrence of null pronominal subjects and objects. With
regard to verb position it is argued that all the early Germanic
languages except Gothic exhibit robust evidence for verb movement to
the C-domain in neutral declarative main clauses, and that other
positions may well have been associated with specific interpretive
effects. In the wh-system verb movement to the C-domain was even
more clearly established, again with certain classes of well-defined
exceptions that can be accounted for on a principled basis; treating the
early Germanic wh-system as a whole also leads to a less stipulative
account of the supposed West Germanic 'interjection' *hwat, as an
underspecified wh-item introducing an exclamative clause. Subjects
(and, more rarely, objects) could be null in all the early Germanic
languages, with slight variations; a partial null argument analysis of
these languages is argued for, and it is suggested that this property
can be reconstructed at least for Proto-Northwest Germanic.

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