Author: Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald Title: Imperatives and Commands Series Title: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory Publisher: Oxford University Press Published: 2010
Hugo García, Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, USA Department of Literature, University of Guadalajara, Mexico
This book approaches the study of imperatives from a typological perspective, and it is organized as a comprehensive description of the features that imperatives share crosslinguistically. Due to the exhaustiveness of the information covered, the author gives a limited amount of examples in the body of the text, and the information is complemented with more observations and examples in endnotes at the end of each chapter. Chapter 1 presents the methodology and scope of the work. Here the author states that the book is the result of the examination of nearly 700 grammars (p. 12), complemented by her firsthand knowledge of languages as Tariana (Aikhenvald, 2003), a language spoken in the Amazon region, and Manambu, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea (Aikhenvald, 2008). Aikhenvald opts for not constructing a sample of any kind or for giving statistical counts. The author bases this methodological decision on the fact that the number of documented languages is relatively small compared to those languages yet not described: “what appears rare to us at the present stage of knowledge may turn out to be frequent when we start learning more about hitherto little-known languages and areas” (p. 12). This first chapter also introduces two important pairs of distinctions. First, there is the form-function distinction between imperatives and commands, the former being a formal category in any language and the latter being the speech act or the function of commanding. The second distinction is between canonical and non-canonical imperatives. Only those imperatives that are directed towards the addressee are considered canonical, and more specifically, only those that use the second person singular. All other imperatives forms are seen as non-canonical. The aforementioned distinction between canonical and non-canonical imperatives is developed and justified in chapter 2, which presents us with numerous examples of canonical imperatives. The author shows that they are crosslinguistically more frequent and less marked than other imperative forms. As a concluding remark, the author elaborates on some inferential universals, e.g.: if a language has third person imperatives, we expect it to have at least a hortative form as well (this is, an imperative form directed towards the speaker and the addressee, see p. 76). In addition, other structural facts are accounted for: e.g., how changing the subject can cause a change of the function of the form (a change of the speech act). Chapter 3 describes the main properties that distinguish imperatives from other sentence types. In summary, in the languages of the world the following specific characteristics are often found: a) a special intonation contour; b) a different order of constituents from that of interrogative and declarative sentences, and c) the fact that verbal categories in imperatives can acquire meanings or overtones of politeness and pragmatic force (p. 113). Following her methodological principle, the author does not give any statistical count, but only mentions those features as the most relevant in her corpora. Chapter 4 discusses grammatical categories that tend to accompany imperative forms. Crosslinguistically, imperatives tend to code fewer grammatical categories than their corresponding declarative sentences. The most relevant grammatical features found in imperatives are aspect, time, spatial distance, directionality of action, and evidentiality, but all these categories appear in a more limited fashion than in declarative utterances. For example, the evidential markers that can appear in imperatives are often limited to those reporting secondhand information (pp. 138ff.). Chapter 5 is dedicated to the study of negative imperatives (also known as ‘prohibitives’). Here, the author observes that prohibitives can either resemble more closely positive imperatives or declarative sentences. They can also be more elaborate than positive imperatives, or they may be more grammatically simplified (p. 190). Chapter 6 approaches imperatives from the perspective of their relations to speech acts and politeness. The author notices that bare imperatives have the potential to express many different speech acts. She also observes that bare imperative forms tend to be less polite and have urgency overtones. Haiman’s principle of iconicity is referred to several times throughout the book: “‘the greater the politeness, the longer the message’” (p. 46, see also Haiman, 1983 and 1985). Systems of honorifics are also covered in this chapter. Chapter 7 focuses on imperative usages other than commanding, such as blessings, curses, greetings, statements, etc. One salient instance of those cases is the ‘dramatic imperative’ in Russian, which is used in narratives to “refer to unexpected and spontaneous actions, without any implication whatsoever of a command” (p. 248). After presenting a survey on the diversity of imperative functions across languages, the author concludes that many of these functions reflect “a directive speech act,” although not all them are commands (p. 252-253). Chapter 8 describes strategies for performing commands other than by using imperative forms. The author concludes that it is “not the case that ‘anything goes’ in any language” (p. 288) but that each language has its own pragmatic conventions for performing indirect commands. Chapter 9 expands on cultural relativity by showing how the use of imperatives can diverge across cultures. The author demonstrates that the pragmatics and semantics of imperatives are not universal, but usage of imperative forms varies according to the politeness conventions that each community has. This chapter also includes information on how children acquire commands. She concludes that “early acquisition of command forms, including imperatives themselves and command strategies, is related to their frequency in carers’ speech and to their formal simplicity” (p. 329). Thus, early acquisition of imperative forms is due to children’s frequent exposure to these forms. Chapter 10 explains diachronic processes that produce imperative forms or cause grammaticalization into imperative markers. Special attention is paid to the formation of prohibitives and non-canonical imperatives, since it is considered that canonical forms tend to resist change (p. 362). The author distinguishes five sources of imperative formation: 1) desiderative and optative forms; 2) future and intentional modality; 3) expressions of ability; 4) subjunctive and hypothetical modal forms, and 5) processes of desubordination and incomplete speech (p. 363). Chapter 11 approaches the phenomenon of language contact. The author shows how the tendency to being able to say what members of a neighboring speech community can say in their language often urges a community to develop a more complex imperative system than the one available through their own language. This scenario is profusely illustrated with languages such as Tariana and its strong contact with other languages in the Amazonian area. Another situation described is that of a language losing some features of its imperatives because of language contact. This is, for example, the case of Nivkh, a Siberian language, which has lost its first person dual imperative because of its contact with Russian (p. 383). Chapter 12 summarizes the book’s findings and provides some suggestions describing imperatives in a language. These suggestions are complemented with an appendix mainly addressed to field linguists.
This is an ambitious work which contains an impressive amount of data on many world languages. It is undoubtedly a valuable addition to a field of study which, surprisingly, has not been very well explored. The classic paper on speech acts in grammar by Sadock and Zwicky (1985) addressed some of the topics that are treated by Aikhenvald, such as the frequency of the elision of subject pronouns in imperatives, or the formal distinctions between prohibitives and positive imperatives. A further elaboration of these topics is König and Siemund’s study (2007), which describes other imperative-related constructions, such as hortatives and optatives, which are also discussed in Aikhenvald’s work. Xrakovskij (ed.) (2001) had been so far the only existent volume on the topic of imperatives. It contains two theoretical papers and 24 articles describing imperatives in particular languages. The articles are arranged according to the structural characteristics of imperatives in the languages in question: languages with person and number paradigms in the imperative only and not in other moods, such as Modern Japanese and Mongolian; languages with person and number paradigms in both imperative and other moods, such as Javanese and Turkic languages; languages with imperative paradigms which include the verb forms of other moods as well, such as Modern Hebrew and German; languages with imperative paradigms which include verb forms comprising auxiliary verbs, such as English and French, and finally, languages without imperative paradigms, such as Vietnamese and Cambodian. This book is more limited in scope, but also more straightforward than Aikhenvald’s work, which presents the data in a less organized manner, by accumulating examples of the linguistic diversity she wants to convey. More decisive are the differences in the theoretical approaches taken in both books: the first paper in Xrakovskij’s volume is about the theoretical problems in the study of imperative sentences. In this paper, Birjulin and Xrakovskij challenge the traditional conception of imperatives as utterances directed to a second-person who is also the agent of the verb and define imperatives more broadly, as a sentence that has ‘prescription’ as its semantic content. Further, the other theoretical article included in this book (Dolinina, 2001), argues that the imperative is not a verbal mood, but rather a speech act category which ‘frames’ a proposition from the outside. Thus, from a theoretical perspective, these papers can be considered more innovative than Aikhenvald’s more conservative approach. Methodologically, Aikhenvald’s decision of not constructing a sample clearly limited the generalizations that could be extracted from the data. Her argument for doing so is that our knowledge of the languages of the world is still very poor, and any insights gained from the study of languages we know therefore cannot be representative (p. 12). However, this argument can be reduced to the following typological skepticism: If we had the descriptions of all languages of the world, we still would be missing descriptions of languages that have already disappeared, or even of languages that will exist in the future. Therefore, we would never be able to make any generalizations at all. Not creating a sample seems even more unusual if one notices that other monographs in the same series (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory) contain constructed samples (e.g. Haspelmath, 1997; Cristofaro, 2003). In spite of her skepticism, the author makes some generalizations, e.g.: “No languages have been found which would have first person singular imperatives ― but not non-singular or inclusive first person imperatives” (p. 53). These generalizations can appear along with ad hoc explanations. For example, the former statement is explained by a “predilection for including the addressee in an imperative” (p. 53); and the occurrence of the verb in the first position in many imperatives is attributed to the fact that “the action should be more important than the identity of those who are to perform it” (p. 93). Other explanations use more elaborated linguistic theories and concepts. However, the author tends to limit herself to the exposition of the main argument without exploring further implications. For example, on the issue of the grammaticalization of imperatives, the author observes that verbs “may evolve into grammatical markers” (p. 346) and cites some instances, without explaining the paths of grammaticalization that give rise to imperative forms. In summary, the extension of the topics and the amount of data covered give this book the character of a handbook more than that of a monograph. It is undoubtedly a very insightful reading, which will be of interest not only for typologists but also for readers interested in the study of politeness, (inter-cultural) pragmatics, and other formal and functional aspects of imperatives and commands.
Aikhenvald, A., Yuamali Ala, J., & Luma Laki, P. (2008). The Manambu language of East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Aikhenvald, A. (2003). A grammar of Tariana, from northwest Amazonia. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Birjulin, L. A., & Xrakovskij, V. S. (2001). Imperative sentences: theoretical problems. In V. S. Xrakovskij (Ed.), Typology of imperative constructions (pp. 3- 50). München: Lincom Europa.
Cristofaro, S. (2003). Subordination. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Dolinina, I. B. (2001). The imperative paradigm: meaning and form. In V. S. Xrakovskij (Ed.), Typology of imperative constructions (pp. 501-509). München: Lincom Europa.
Haiman, J. (1983). Iconic and economic motivation. Language. 59(4), 781-819.
Haiman, J. (1985). Natural syntax : iconicity and erosion. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Haspelmath, M. (1997). Indefinite pronouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press König, E., & Siemund, P. (2007). Speech act distinctions in grammar. In T. Shopen (Ed.), Language typology and syntactic description (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 276-324). Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sadock, J. M., & Zwicky, A. M. (1985). Speech act distinctions in syntax. In T. Shopen (Ed.), Language typology and syntactic description (Vol. 1, pp. 155-196). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Xrakovskij, V. S. (Ed.). (2001). Typology of imperative constructions. München: Lincom Europa.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Hugo García is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Linguistics at the
University of New Mexico, USA. He is also an Associate Professor of
Linguistics on leave at the Department of Literature at the University of
Guadalajara, Mexico. He received his M. A. in Applied Linguistics at the
University of Guadalajara and is currently completing his Doctorate in
Linguistics at the University of New Mexico. He is also a Teaching
Associate at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of
New Mexico. His research has been mainly focused on pragmatics and more
specifically, on speech acts. He is currently working on an investigation
on the typology of sentence types.