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LINGUIST List 24.1933

Mon May 06 2013

Review: Syntax; Typology: Subbārāo (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 10-Mar-2013
From: Sanford Steever <sbsteeveryahoo.com>
Subject: South Asian Languages
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1745.html

AUTHOR: Kārumūri V. Subbārāo
TITLE: South Asian Languages
SUBTITLE: A Syntactic Typology
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Sanford B Steever

SUMMARY

With “South Asian Languages” (SAL) K.V. Subbārāo (KVS) makes a major
contribution to the linguistic typology of the South Asian linguistic area
that was first explored by Emeneau (1956) and subsequently by others, such as
Masica (1976). This linguistic area includes languages from the Austroasiatic,
Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman families. The Austroasiatic family in
South Asia includes languages from two sub-branches, Mon-Khmer and Munda.
Clusters of typological similarities among languages from the four different
groups suggest historical convergence to form a Sprachbund, or linguistic area
on the Indian subcontinent.

KVS introduces a new way of looking at the linguistic typology of South Asia.
While earlier studies generally frame typology in terms of Greenberg-style
(1966) implicational statements (e.g., if a language has SOV word order, then
it also has postpositions), SAL defines typological variation in the languages
of the subcontinent in terms of parametric variation in the principles and
parameters model. This allows the author to examine the principles that South
Asian languages share with Universal Grammar and the parameters of syntax and
morphology according to which they may differ. This study is primarily a
descriptive one, whose results may then be used in studies of how the
languages from four different families came structurally to converge over time
in South Asia. The book includes eight chapters: Introduction (1-17); South
Asian languages: a preview (18-42); Lexical anaphors and pronouns in South
Asian languages (43-92); Case and agreement (93-133); Non-nominative subjects
(134-192); Complementation (193-245); Backward Control (246-262); and Noun
modification: relative clauses (262-312). An accompanying pdf
(www.cambridge.org/subbarao), accessible from the web, contains 315 pages of
appendices and supplementary material for these chapters, often generously
providing other scholars’ alternative analyses of the phenomena under
discussion.

Chapter 1 (“Introduction”) sketches the program of analysis and the data it is
applied to. The list of source languages used does not completely correspond
with the languages referenced in the text; for example, the North Dravidian
language Malto is cited in the text, but not included in the list. However,
the list of source languages makes clear a major departure from earlier work
on South Asian typology: languages from the Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic
families figure much more prominently than before, redressing an earlier
imbalance in favor of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan.

Chapter 2 (“South Asian languages: a preview”) reviews previous word-order
studies of South Asian languages, and discusses some of their major
typological characteristics. These include the predominant SOV word order and
its correlates, e.g., use of postpositions over prepositions. To define South
Asian languages more specifically, KVS notes the use of compound verbs,
conjunct verbs, reduplication, echo words, conjunctive participles and the
quotative construction. A section on parametric variation discusses some of
the parameters that South Asian languages opt for, including null pronominals,
relatively free word order and the absence of superiority effects. Some
examples of convergence are given. And, finally, some examples of unique
features of each family are provided.

Chapter 3 (“Lexical anaphors and pronouns in South Asian languages”) takes up
various constructions in which anaphors are claimed to be at work, including
reflexive and reciprocal structures. One conclusion that KVS comes to is that
all languages of South Asia (except Marathi) obey Principles A, B and C of
Binding Theory. Of interest is the demonstration that in many South Asian
languages, non-nominative subjects (e.g. dative subjects in Tamil or genitive
subjects in Bangla) may serve as antecedents to a lexical anaphor, reinforcing
previous work in other frameworks of the subject-coding properties of such
constructions.

Chapter 4 (“Case and agreement”) discusses agreement typologies in South Asian
languages. It isolates four overall patterns ranging from no agreement to
polysynthesis, and provides examples of each kind.

Chapter 5 (“Non-nominative subjects”) takes up constructions in a variety of
South Asian languages which have non-nominative subjects, including ergative,
dative, genitive, locative, instrumental and accusative subjects. While
nominative subjects tend to trigger subject-verb agreement, these other kinds
of subjects exhibit at least some subject-coding properties, such as the
ability to antecede a reflexive pronoun, or to trigger deletion of a
coreferential subject in a lower clause.

Chapter 6 (“Complementation”) largely focuses on the placement of the
complementizer vis-à-vis the complement clause, distinguishing primarily among
clause-initial position (e.g., Kashmiri), clause-final position (e.g., Tamil)
or both clause-initial and clause-final positions (e.g., Bangla). These
positions are correlated with other phenomena such as basic word order,
question markers, clefts and subordinate relative clause markers. For example,
the presence of clause-final complementizers correlates with SOV word order in
conformity with the Head Direction parameter. However, a number of Indo-Aryan
and Munda languages with basic SOV word order have clause-initial
complementizers, which does not conform to that parameter. Their analysis, as
well as the analysis of languages with clause-initial and clause-final
complementizers, becomes tricky, raising the question of whether the Head
Direction parameter is sufficient to describe the various patterns.

Chapter 7 (“Backward control”) treats the phenomenon of backward control in
Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman; Austroasiatic languages appear to
lack such structures. Backward control involves cases in which a subject in a
subordinate clause can control the deletion of a coreferential subject in a
main clause. Counterintuitive as this may appear, the problematic nature of
these structures may be resolved by appealing to basic pronominalization
rather than control. In the Telugu complex sentence [[ramaNa-ki koopam vacci]
X inTi-ki veLLi pooyeeDu] lit., [[ramana-to anger coming] X house to went],
‘Ramana got angry and went home’, the dative subject of the lower clause
‘ramaNa-ki’ is said to control deletion of the nominative subject ramaNa (= X)
in the upper clause. An alternative treatment, it seems to me, is the simple
forward pronominalization (actually deletion) of the second instance of a
coreferential NP.

Chapter 8 (“Noun modification: relative clause”) discusses the typology of
three kinds of relative clause constructions in South Asian languages:
externally-headed relative clauses, relative-correlative clauses, and
internally-headed relative clauses. One pattern that is missing from the
discussion of relative clauses are correlative-relative clauses that use
nonfinite verb forms, such as the conditional, in the lower clause. Though
statistically recessive, such nonfinite correlatives are well-attested across
Dravidian.

EVALUATION

Let me first list some issues which stood out in the individual chapters. In
chapter 2, example (27) has a messy translation: the final “…not known” should
be omitted. It is also unclear why such prominence is given to sandhi rules as
a unique identifier of the Dravidian languages, particularly when the term and
the phenomena it describes come from Indo-Aryan.

In chapter 3, the claim that Toda has only the nominal form of the (reflexive)
anaphor must be taken as a tendency, not an absolute. Emeneau (1984:174) does
record instances in which Toda uses a verb form of the reflexive anaphor.
Chart 3.2 and 3.3 are labeled as pertaining to Dravidian when they include
only forms from Telugu. Example (62) does not adequately illustrate KVS’s
claim that the dative-subject sentence cannot have a verbal reflexive
sentence. The verbal reflexive is realized as the second part of a V+V
compound; however, the predicate in (62) is a predicate nominal, which is
unable to host any verbal marker as is. The claim that Toda has retained most
features of Proto-Dravidian (p. 91) faces an uphill battle since it is a
relatively recent offshoot of Proto-Tamil-Malayalam, and the fact that South
Dravidian is in many respects an innovative branch within Dravidian.

In chapter 4, KVS’s discussion of object-agreement in the South-Central
Dravidian language Manda (pp. 126-127) is incomplete and flawed. First, Manda
is not the only Dravidian language to show object agreement: Kui, Kuvi and
Pengo also show it. Further, object agreement has a good Dravidian pedigree
and is not a borrowing from Munda languages such as Sora. Steever (1993)
provides synchronic and diachronic analyses of object agreement constructions
in Dravidian, supported by extensive argumentation, to show that they evolved
within a Dravidian context. Also, the claim that certain patterns of agreement
in Malto are due to Munda influence cannot be readily maintained in the face
of evidence from Steever (1988) that they represent retentions of a pattern of
serial verb formations from earliest Dravidian. There also appears to be some
confusion between the grammatical category of person and grammatical roles
such as subject, object, etc.: on page 122, the Principle of Pronominal
Strength Hierarchy refers to the category of person (first, second, third),
while on page 133, it refers to subject, direct object, etc.

In chapter 5, the Kannada sentence in example (69), glossed as ‘I don’t like
this’, fails to illustrate the use of dative subjects for predicates signaling
necessity since the predicate ‘like’ does not signal necessity. The verb base
peTTu in the Malayalam example (156a) is glossed with a question mark when it
should be glossed simply as ‘take’.

In chapter 6 (“Complementation”), the discussion on page 196 and following
assumes that quotative final-complementizers are derived from verbs meaning
‘say’. Steever (1988) shows that from the earliest stages of Dravidian, such
complementizers are derived from verbs meaning ‘say’, ‘become’ and ‘resemble’,
not just verbs of saying. This indicates that complementizers derived from
verbs have a much broader semantic scope than is suggested by the term ‘say’,
and thus that the development of complementizers, for this family at least, is
far more complicated than claiming that the verb ‘say’ was the initial meaning
from which all other complementizer functions evolved. The Telugu word for
‘marriage’ in example (30) should be peLLi, not peiii. In the Telugu example
(126), ‘You know what Naseem said’, the subject of the subordinate clause,
nasim, is analyzed as being in the main, not the subordinate clause. Compare
this with (128) where it is analyzed as within the subordinate clause.

In chapter 7, the use of ∀ to mark the absence of a matrix subject coindexed
with an embedded subject is infelicitous as this symbol has long been used to
signal the universal quantifier. An intermediate summary on page 257 claims
that languages with tensed conjunctive participles permit backward control,
citing Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. However, the previous text did not
provide examples of conjunctive participles marking tense. Tamil conjunctive
forms do not mark tense at all (Steever 2005), but show the same patterns of
backward control, so the issue of tense seems to be irrelevant here.

In chapter 8, page 266, the text claims, “In Dravidian languages, it is always
a pronoun that occurs in the matrix clause [of a relative-correlative], and
not a Demonstrative Phrase.” However, the matrix clause typically contains a
demonstrative pronoun, e.g., Tamil avan ‘that man’. On page 268, the text
claims, “In Dravidian too the relative pronoun functions as a relative
determiner.” However, Dravidian languages lack a dedicated series of relative
pronouns, using instead interrogative pronouns. While page 275 states that,
“All positions on the NPAH [=noun phrase accessibility hierarchy] are
relativizable in the Dravidian languages,” evidence from Annamalai (1997)
shows that not all positions are relativizable on the nonfinite participle
strategy, requiring use of the relative-correlative strategy instead. While
KVS repeats the claim that relative-correlative structures in Telugu and, more
generally, Dravidian are borrowings, at least three authors in his
bibliography, Lashmi Bai 1985, Ramasamy 1981, and Steever 1988, take the view
that they are native to Dravidian. In what may be a first, the running head on
page 311 has a footnote.

As used in the chapter, the term ‘relative clause’ strikes me as overly broad,
which could set up a situation in which scholars talk at cross-purposes. Tamil
has a so-called adjectival participle, e.g. vant-a ‘X which came’. It appears
in straightforward relative clauses (vanta manitan ‘(the) man who came’;
adverbial expressions (vanta pootu ‘when (one) came’); and factive expressions
(mantiri vanta ceyti ‘the news that the minister came’). Only the first of
these can truly be said to be a relative clause, so the reader must exercise
some caution when looking at what have traditionally been called relative
clauses. The text’s ambivalence over the treatment of these constructions is
reflected in the fact that the initial definition of a relative clause as a
modified noun phase (page 263) is later broadened to include modified adverbs
(page 274).

Subsequent editions might want to inventory more closely the items covered in
the text. For example, the list on page 264 indicates that the discussion will
consider the Strict OV Constraint (SOVC) and its adherence in the
relative-correlative clauses in Dravidian, but actually fails to take this up.
Earlier in the pdf supplement, KVS cites Hock 2005 for the SOVC, but the form
cited is a simplification of a rule developed in Steever (1988). The form Hock
ultimately develops is radically different. In neither case, however, is the
SOVC amenable to formulation as a Greenberg-style implicational statement or a
Chomskyan parameter, so its inclusion in a study of typology is somewhat
dubious.

I would like to have seen two additions. It would have been helpful to include
a map of the languages so the reader can see their geographic distribution
throughout the subcontinent. Second, an extended index that included subjects
in the pdf supplement would have enhanced the index’s utility.

None of these shortcomings seriously compromises the value of this book for
scholars of South Asian languages. SAL is a work in progress in the best sense
of the term. It brings up to date a number of analyses of morphological and
syntactic phenomena in South Asian languages; crystallizes issues of
importance to many scholars working on these languages; includes new data and
arguments for consideration, particularly in the pdf supplement; and actively
invites collaboration with other scholars. SAL may well be the first study of
its kind to wholeheartedly embrace the study of the Austroasiatic and
Tibeto-Burman languages in South Asia. KVS, by himself and with colleagues,
has undertaken the study of neglected languages in these two families to
enhance our understanding of their contribution to the formation of the South
Asian linguistic area. This book deserves to be read and re-read, particularly
with others interested in its fascinating contents.

REFERENCESS

Annamalai, E. 1997. Adjectival clauses in Tamil. Tokyo: Institute for the
Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of
Foreign Studies. (Publication of 1969 doctoral dissertation, Adjectival
clauses in Dravidian, University of Chicago: Department of Linguistics.)

Emeneau, M.B. 1956. India as a linguistic area. Language 32.1:3-16.

Emeneau, M.B. 1984. Toda. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Greenberg, J.H. 1966. Some universals of grammar with particular reference to
the order of meaningful elements. In J.H. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of
language, vol. II, 73-113. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hock, H. H. 2005. How strict is strict OV? A family of typological constraints
with focus on South Asia. Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
2005, 145-64.

Masica, C. 1976. Defining a linguistic area: South Asia. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.

Steever, S.B. 1988. The serial verb formation in the Dravidian languages.
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.

Steever, S.B. 1993. Analysis to synthesis: the development of complex verb
morphology in the Dravidian languages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Steever, S.B. 2005. The Tamil auxiliary verb system. London: Routledge.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Sanford B Steever is an independent scholar focused on the study of the
Dravidian languages. He has published extensively on the morphology, syntax
and history of this language family and its members, e.g. Tamil.
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