LINGUIST List 9.855

Tue Jun 9 1998

Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. bwald, Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)
  2. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

Message 1: Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 03:28:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

I was very pleased and also very much interested in Geoffrey Sampson's
response to the discussion provoked by Feargal Murphy's review of his
book "Educating Eve" on the subject of hypotaxis. I was thankful that
I was careful enough to phrase my comments as I did, i.e.,

>"bwald" writes "Sampson (according to Murphy's account, which seems
>credible to me) denied ... ".

That is, I left open the question of how accurately Murphy reported
Sampson's ideas. To anticipate my reaction to Sampson's
clarification, the latter vindicated for me my phrase "...which seems
credible". Nevertheless, Sampson was clearly not pleased, and wrote:

>Surely this comes perilously close to scholarship as garden-wall
>gossip .... Am I old-fashioned in presupposing that scholars who
>criticize a book will have read at least the passages they criticize?

I can understand Sampson's annoyance that the ideas discussed in his
book might be criticised by someone who has not read the book, me for
example. However, the point of my phrasing was to criticise the idea
- the idea that hypotaxis is the result of (historical) literacy, a
familiar enough idea, whether or not Sampson said it. Thus, it is
only by a chain of implications that I am criticising Sampson's book
if that idea appears there. I was questioning the idea, not the book.
I do not need to read the book to criticise the idea.

Now let's consider Sampson's clarification of the idea (as he claims
to have expressed it in his book). He begins with:

>"Just for the record", let me respond to some comments made about the
>parataxis/hypotaxis issue, which seems to be the passage of EDUCATING
>EVE that has aroused most interest (though it occupies less than two
>pages of the book).

That was certainly the case for me, due to my interest in complex
syntax, as a general linguistic phenomenon, not one restricted to one
or another group of languages.

He continues:

> In the first place, I did not claim as an original finding of my own
>that the early history of Proto-Indo-European languages, and of
>Hebrew, shows an absence of hypotaxis; as I pointed out in EDUCATING
>EVE, I am not qualified to make such a claim.

GS means "Indo-European" not "Proto-IE", but the lapse is
interpretable, if, for example, he is thinking of the process of
relativisation -- a grammatical process which is particularly relevant
to discussion of the Chomsky-Piaget debate. IEists have long pointed
out that a relative marker is not reconstructable for IE (according to
available methodology) because the different IE languages show a
variety of different forms for the relative marker. However, that is
a formal problem. As far as I know, all the older IE languages have
some pronominal which they used as a relative marker (e.g. a *kw, *t,
*y or *s form). From this, it might be deduced that Proto-IE had a
process of relativisation, and perhaps even that it involved a
pronominal used as a relative marker, but that its particular form is
not known (and, perhaps, the daughter languages have generalised
different markers from distinctions originally relevant to the
information status of the head).

Of course, there were some, mainly in the 19th c, who still believed,
quite speculatively, that the *grammatical* complexity of a language
is related to the complexity (in their view) of the society which
speaks it. They were inclined to identify that complexity with
hypotaxis in grammar, no doubt because literacy, a feature of
relatively complex societies (though not necessarily all such
societies), favors more than speech the use of hypotaxis (but as a
matter of *frequency*, for the most part). Such believers were
inclined to suppose that their inability to reconstruct the precise
form of the relativisation process in Proto-IE was an indication that
it did not exist in IE, and that the attested languages independently
evolved the process (though not necessarily as the result of
literacy). Be this as it may, this notion, reflecting a positivist
tradition older than scientific linguistics, was hardly a "majority
consensus" point of view in the 20th c, though GS seems to go on to
suggest this:

>Nor did I say that 19th-century historical linguists were united in
>believing that this claim was true; they were not. What I did say,
>quoting writings published between 1895 and 1982, was that the
>majority consensus, among those who are qualified, seemed to be that
>the claim was true;

I denied above that this is true for most of the 20th century, no
matter how you define "qualified". Nor is it relevant to current
consensus (which, of course, includes those who may disagree with
Chomsky about his ideas of innatism and any number of other matters).

GS concludes the passage with:

>and I made the point concrete, for a non-technical readership, by
>contrasting the purely paratactic Hebrew grammar of the opening lines
>of the Book of Genesis with the heavily hypotactic structure of a
>modern English translation.

Thus, GS is dismissing his examples for us, a "technical" readership.
For us, it would be more useful to stick to the process of
relativisation, and whether or not there are or ever have been, as far
as we can tell, languages which have lacked it. This is the crucial
point. And I realise that if this discussion is to continue we will
have to discuss further what is meant by the process of
relativisation, and (1) does any language lack it? (2) does any
language which has it constrain it so that it cannot intervene between
a subject and a predicate? (for starters, assuming an SV ordering

(NB. If we can establish (1) and (2) we can go on to:
 (3) does any language lack some syntactic processes which ignore the
difference between a simple subject, whatever that is, and a subject
serving as head to a relative clause? That is, in the way that
question formation in English ignores the difference between "the man"
and "the man who is sad" in preposing "*is* the man who is sad 0

Later GS writes:

>One way of resolving the tension between these two passages in
>Lehmann's book would be to take him as agreeing that grammar has
>grown more complex in the period of historical record, but as
>objecting to Delbrueck for thinking that this was a process of
>biological rather than cultural evolution. If so, that would agree
>with the position defended in EDUCATING EVE.

And that is what I understood from Murphy's review. However, it is
completely unclear to me that this is at all the case. We see
increasing *exploitation* of grammatical complexity in written
language as it has evolved in certain, indeed most, cultures.
However, I am unaware of any evidence for any *new* syntactic device
that can be attributed to literacy itself, and certainly not the
process of relativisation. So again I ask:

What language does not have a process of relativisation? What
language does not allow relativisation of a subject preposed to a

(NB. English allows, but does not require, the relative clause to be
postposed, as in:
 the man is tall [who is sad].
as well as,
 the man [who's sad] he's tall. and we might argue about the
"grammaticality", or is the "felicity", of:
 the man built the houses who is tall, cf. the man married the
woman who is tall,)
the man has many children who is tall

Finally, I have no problem with GS's suggestion that literacy
influences speech. Indeed, to go beyond what he says (or speculates
about), there is empirical evidence that more highly educated people
use more complex syntax than less educated people, consistent with the
idea that greater exposure to literacy correlates with greater *use*
of complex syntax (e.g., Tony Kroch's study of class differences in
Philadelphia in the early 1980s). Nevertheless, the same patterns,
though less *frequently*, occur in the speech of less "literate"
speakers. Therefore, we seem to be dealing with differences in
*rhetorical* patterns rather than different grammars. To the extent
that the written word is authoritative in our culture, speakers may
"talk like books" to adopt an authoritative stance (and indeed they
do, as any news discussion show demonstrates), cf. the adoption of
King James Biblical English by street preachers.

With regard to whether or not, such patterns as "the man who is tall
is sad" could arise at all without previous exposure, a crucial point
of contention between GS and Chomsky (for one), a serious argument one
way or the other must be precise about just what age such patterns do
arise and to what extent literacy can be determined to affect them
(e.g., along the lines of Gordon Wells and the Bristol project of the
early 1980s). It is time to consider empirical studies rather than
speculate on the basis of vague connections between how children talk
and what is written in children's stories (by adults), or on the basis
of discredited historical theories of syntactic evolution.
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Message 2: Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

Date: Tue, 09 Jun 1998 07:48:07 -0400
From: Peter T. Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 9.846, Disc: Educating Eve (and Hypotaxis)

Geoffrey Sampson writes:

> I am surprised at how words are being put into my mouth in the
> course of the discussion sparked off by Feargal Murphy's review of
> my book EDUCATING EVE (posting 9.734). In posting 9.814, "bwald"
> writes "Sampson (according to Murphy's account, which seems credible
> to me) denied ... ". In posting 9.773, "Seth" writes "In response
> to Feargal Murphy's review ..., [j]ust for the record, it appears
> that in EE Sampson is using ... "; and so on. Surely this comes
> perilously close to scholarship as garden-wall gossip ("My friend
> Edna said that her neighbour told her ... "). Am I old-fashioned in
> presupposing that scholars who criticize a book will have read at
> least the passages they criticize? In this case the entire book
> (which was published in Britain and in the USA in 1997) is not very
> long.

The book was/is not yet available in the USA. I have still not seen a
copy, either at a library or at a bookstore. -- Peter T. Daniels
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