LINGUIST List 9.798

Thu May 28 1998

Disc: Hypotaxis

Editor for this issue: Julie Wilson <>


  1. bwald, Hypotaxis is universal

Message 1: Hypotaxis is universal

Date: Sat, 23 May 1998 01:48:40 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Hypotaxis is universal

"Seth" <> writes:
>Of course, the only
>testimonies we have of both BH and Akkadian are written, but it does not
>seem plausible, at least to me, that hypotaxis emerged only as a result of

I appreciate his examples from Semitic, to which can be added a comparison
of Homeric and later forms of Greek (esp with respect to the development of
complex participial constructions where English, say, uses subordinate
clauses). I suppose that Mycenaean also shows the same, unless it is
written in a highly elliptical and abbreviated form.

If hypotaxis means the form of recursion which allows one clause to be
embedded in another, either preserving the same form as a canonical clause
or with various changes, then this seems to be a universal property of
language belonging to all languages written or spoken There is no reason
to believe that languages were different before writing was invented, and
that hypotaxis somehow spread since the invention of writing to all known
languages (most of which are and always will be unwritten).

I do not think there is any understanding of the term "hypotaxis" that can
justify Sampson's claim, as reported in Murphy's review. For the influence
of writing on language, we might look at the kind of convoluted syntax that
only highly literate-and-visually oriented people can produce and that
nobody can understand without writing it down from dictation of its pieces
and working through it with pencil and paper (and even that doesn't always
work). Apart from that, we can see the effects of literacy on such
linguistic characterisations of language data as "*movement* to the *left*
or *right*"; spatial metaphors based on transforming the temporal
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