LINGUIST List 6.643

Fri 05 May 1995

Sum: Putative universals

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  1. Christopher Culy, Universals (summary)

Message 1: Universals (summary)

Date: Tue, 2 May 1995 12:36:40 -Universals (summary)
From: Christopher Culy <culyCsli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Universals (summary)

Content-Length: 5080

Hi all,

A couple weeks ago I asked about counterexamples to some putative
universals. Thanks to the following people for replying (my apologies if I
have omitted anyone):

Frank Anshen, Glenn Ayres, Georgia Green, Dick Hudson, Larry G Hutchinson,
Stavros Macrakis, Dick Oehrle, Lindsay J. Whaley, Jack Wiedrick

Most people responed to the (incorrect) idea that English might require
that every sentence have a verb. I have summarized the responses below.

Some examples:
What about this one?
The bigger the better.
The more, the merrier.
The quicker you finish your homework, the sooner you can watch TV.
The hotter, the better.

Haj Ross wrote about the comparative examples, maybe in the 70s.
There might be more recent discussion in Construction Grammar.

More details:

Dick Hudson:

Oh for a horse!
Down with the government! Off with his head!
The bigger the better.
Two coffees, please.
Good morning!
French: Voici le vin `Here's the wine.'
Arabic: Muhammed taiyibun (NOM) `Mohammed (is) good'; if you assume an
underlying copula verb you have to explain why the adjective is not in the
accusative case which the copula verb (which is used in some contexts)
Dick Oehrle:
Class 1.
 Off with his head!
 To the gallows with him!

Class 2.
 Garbage in, garbage out.
 The more, the merrier.
 So many books, so little time.

There is a question, I suppose, about whether we should call
these expressions `sentences'. Class 1 examples conjoin easily
with imperatives but don't substitute for tensed or tenseless
that-clauses. Class 2 examples aren't so bad in some of these
Glenn Ayres:

In particular, some Mayan languages do not have ordinary verbs in
existential sentences and sentences of some other types, although there is
usually a word which doesn't inflect like a verb but might be taken to be
one anyway.

Stavros Macrakis:

In languages like ancient Greek, where copula is often optional,
participles can take the place of the verb.

Jack Wiedrick:

) 4. Predicative sentences are the only sentences that can lack a verb.

In Japanese, one can say to a group of students taking a test:
 _kaitooyooshi-wa kono hako-ni_
 answer-paper-TOPIC this box-DATIVE
 'Answer sheets go in this box'
which clearly has no verb and is not a predicative sentence (it is a
directive). Another example might be the ubiquitous pattern
 _yoi N-o
 'Have a good N'
which shows up often in congratulatory phrases like _yoi toshi-o_
'Have a good (new) year' and _yoi tanjoobi-o_ 'Have a good birthday'.
All sentences of this type seem to be directives and are possible
because of the case marking on Japanese nouns. They are all well-
formed sentences. Greenlandic Eskimo (also a case-marking language)
has some similar patterns, but I don't have any materials on that
with me at the moment. If you would like, I can look up some
examples and send them to you later.

) 5. In no language can a sentence consist of two predicative
) clauses juxtaposed. For example, "I am a teacher you are a student"
) consists of two sentences (in my view).

Also in Japanese, it is very possible to say:
 _boku-wa kateikyooshi de, kimi-wa seito_
 I-TOPIC home-tutor am you-TOPIC student
 'I am the tutor, and you are the student.'
which has only one verb (_de_) in a subordinate participial form, and
is most certainly one, and not two, sentences, both semantically and
syntactically. Again, Eskimo may also use subordinate verbs in
combination with main verbs to link clauses in this way, but Eskimo
can sometimes have these subordinate verbs standing alone, which
lends support to the argument that they may actually be sentences in
their own right. However, Japanese subordinate clauses cannot stand
alone as well formed sentences, except in informal directives like
 _okane-o kashite_
 money-ACCUSATIVE lending
 'Lend me some money.'

Larry G Hutchinson

[Re: 7. If a language has overt pronouns, then it can have more than one
overt pronoun as the arguments of a verb (e.g. as subject and object) or
it can have an overt pronoun as the possessor of an overt noun. --CC]

Doesn't Kiowa use a single pronoun for each combination of subject-object
"pronouns"? I-him saw vs. He-me saw
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