Verb Movement & No Morphology: Languages
|Author:||Mark de Vos|
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1 Languages with verb movement and no morphology
In my letter of 9 September 2004 (Linguist List 15.2524) I asked whether
there are languages with the following two characteristics:
a. Phonologically unrealised verbal markers for finiteness,
tense, person,number etc on lexical verbs;
b. overt movement of lexical verbs into the functional/IP
domain (or to C) in at least some context. eg. It is
possible that some languages may only exhibit verb movement
in the past tense etc (cf Baker and Stewart, 1998 on Edo).
The answer is most certainly `yes' although such languages are
extraordinarily rare as a glance through the excellent overview of Julien
(2000) will show.
One such language is Afrikaans which exhibits verb-second behaviour but
has no verbal morphology to speak of on lexical verbs (modals and
auxiliaries have suppletive variants). `Tensed' lexical verbs undergoing
V2 (1a) are thus identical to their `infintival' counterparts (1b) which
(1) a. Jan gaan daar
Jan go there
`Jan goes there'
b. Jan is bereid om daar te gaan
Jan is prepared INF-COMP. there to go
`Jan is prepared to go there'
1.2 Other languages
Collins (2002) describes an instance of verbal movement in
double-bar-pipe(sic) Hoan where what appears to be a verbal string appears
in a displaced position. Verbal morphology appears to be relatively poor
(although there is a verbal prefix which being a preverb may not be
qualitatively equivalent to a infleectional suffx).
Verb movement in creoles with impoverished verbal morphology is documented
by Baptista (1999). I have not been able to obtain this book yet and I got
the reference from Alexiadio and Fanselow (2000).
There was a period in the history of English when the verbal morphological
paradigm had collapsed but verb movement was still productive. Depending
on how you look at the evidence, the period might have been as long as 150-
200 years; the period was at least 100 years, and probably much longer.
There is some evidence that in Chinese the main verb moves at least out of
the VP in the fact of VP deletion despite having no overt infleections.
The relevant data are in Huang (1991)
The Nilotic language Bor (Dimka group), is reported to have SVO when there
is no tense or aspect or negation marking but S T/A/Neg OV when there is.
In many languages of Flores (Indonesia) the verbs are completely
uninfleecting, and voice distinctions are marked simply by word order
changes. The data are captured by Arka and Kosmas (forthcoming) for
Manggarai and by Donohue (to appear in the same volume as Arka and Kosmas)
VOS languages with analytic marking also display some of the
characteristics. Seediq, an Austronesian language spoken in central Taiwan
might be a candidate for a language with verb movement in contexts where
aspect is analytically marked. Seediq is a VOS ergative language.
1.2.1 Movement in Embedded clauses
It seems to me that a fair amount of research energy has been expending on
discussing the extent of verb movement in embedded clauses. For instance,
in many verb-second languages (Standard Dutch, German, Mainland
Scandinavian) the finite verb remains in situ in embedded clauses. However
in other verb-second languages (Icelandic, North Norwegian, Yiddish, some
varieties of Afrikaans) the finite verb appears to move (or to have the
possibility of moving) in an embedded clause. This phenomenon has been
discussed in the light of the differing morphology in these languages, but
has been argued not to be conditioned by their morphology (Bobaljik 2002,
Alexiadio and Fanselow 2000).
It is also clear that in ALL of these languages movement of finite verbs
occurs in matrix clauses (whether to T or C being immaterial for the
moment; see Zwart (1994)). So it is surely the case that the possibility
of verb movement in embedded clauses is a subset of the broader question
whether verb movement can occur at all.
2 Moved verbal strings
The first two questions were motivated by a strange phenomenon in
Afrikaans where it appears that a complex predicate (or a string of verbs)
can occur in the second position; the so-called `complex initial'
(2) a. Sy gaan vandag die boek lees
she go today the book read
`she will read the book today'(Ponelis 1993:326)
b. Sy gaan lees vandag die boek
She go read today the book
'She will read the book today'(Ponelis 1993:326)
(3) a. Hy l^e die heeldag na die wolke en kyk
he lie the whole day at the clouds and look
`He lies looking at the clouds the entire day'
b. Hy l^e en kyk die heeldag na die wolke
he lie and look the whole day at the clouds
`He lies looking at the clouds the entire day' (Robbers
This raises another, related question, namely are there languages where
verbal strings appear to move regardless of the nature of their morphology?
The remnant movement phenomena discussed by Den Besten and Webelhuth
(1987) spring to mind. However, my own intuition is that the Afrikaans-
type facts are probably different to topicalization contexts since
topicalization can pied-pipe a number of non-verbal categories whereas the
`complex initial' phenomenon in Afrikaans does not (see also De Vos
In a related vein, in literary, slightly old-fashioned German (though
admittedly not in the modern spoken language), the structure described for
Afrikaans would be fine, especially for topicalization purposes. (''Da
liess fallen er die Tasse...'').
Some fascinating data are found in Cardinaletti and Giusti (2000; 2001)
Cardinaletti and Giusti outline a phenomenon in Marsalese which they call
the `inflected construction' (also found in Eastern Sicilian, Southern
Apulian and Southern Calabrian) where a sequence of `motion verb + a+
lexical verb' appears to have raised across an adverb. There are
interesting morphological restrictions on this construction: only
`unmarked' indicative present and imperative forms are allowed. This is
remniscent of Afrikaans which is the only Germanic language to allow
movement of such a verbal string and also the only Germanic language with
no verbal inflection.
These data should be seen in the light of similar constructions in English
where verb movement is not overt (see for instance, Cardinaletti and
Giusti (2000; 2001), Jaeggli and Hyams (1993), Pullum (1990) and De Vos
Hungarian is another fascinating language insofar as it has focus movement
of a coordinated complex predicate [V1 + V2], stranding the preverb
associated with the second verb. The data are very similar to Afrikaans
examples of fronting a complex predicate while stranding a separable
particle associated with the embedded, lexical verb. However, insofar as
Hungarian has very rich verbal morphology, it seems that any account may
not necessarily be related to morphological factors --abstracting away
from the possibility that the Hungarian and Afrikaans facts are derived in
diffrent ways, of course.
3 Conclusions and speculations
Although it seems to be the case that there are many languages with overt
verb movement and there are also many with overt verbal tense,
person,number etc morphology, these two characteristics do not often
coincide. Part of the answer to this puzzle may lie in deeper research
into null-verbal-morphology languages in order to ascertain if and where
verbal movement occurs.
The other part of the answer seems to be that there is at least some
correlation between verb movement and morphology, although the very
question is hard to formulate in the current framework, let alone answer.
Much research has been done contrasting languages with varying amounts of
verbal morphology in this regard. Comparisons between English and French
and Mainland Scandinavian and Icelandic spring to mind. Much less research
has been done on comparing null-verb-morphology languages (i.e. NOT
English) with languages with at least some degree of verbal morphology.
Comparisons between Afrikaans and West-Germanic could be very illuminating
in this regard.
Finally, there are tantalizing similarities between languages with
coordinated complex predicates with respect to morphology (i.e. Afrikaans,
Marsalese both have interesting morphological restrictions, as does the
English ''try and ...'' construction. However, there is also the sobering
fact that Hungarian seems to have coordinated complex predicates, although
without the same kind of morphological restrictions.
I would like to thank the following people who have taken the time and
trouble to respond to my request to the Linguist List. My apologies in
advance to anybody I have inadvertently omitted. Werner Abraham, Edith
Aldridge, Mark Douglas Arnold, Kristine Bentzen, Bart van Bezooijen,
Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Jac Conradie, Mark Donohue, Anders Holmberg,
Marit Julien, Anik Liptak, Kim Schulte and Tonjes Veenstra.
Artemis Alexiadio and Gisbert Fanselow. On the correlation
between morphology and syntax: The case of v-to-i. In Jan-
Wouter Zwart and Werner Abraham, editors, Studies in
Comparative Germanic Syntax: Proceedings from the 15th
Workshop on Comparative Germanic Syntax (Groningen,May 26--
27, 2000), pages 219-242. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 2000.
M. Baptista. Functional projections and parameterization.
University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 6
Johathan Bobaljik. Realizing germanic in?ection: Why
morphology does not drive syntax. Journal of comparative
Germanic linguistics, 6:129--167, 2002.
A. Cardinaletti and G. Giusti. ''semi-lexical'' motion verbs in
romance and germanic. University of Venice Working Papers
in Linguistics, 10(2): 2000.
Anna Cardinaletti and Giuliana Giusti. ''semi-lexical'' motion
verbs in romance and germanic. In Norbert Corver and Henk
Van Riemsdijk, editors, Semi-Lexical Categories : The
Function of Content Words and the Content of Function
Words, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2001.
Chris. Collins. Multiple verb movement in (double-bar-pipe)
Hoan. Linguistic Inquiry, 33:1--29, 2002.
M. De Vos. Verbal compounding and complex initials. In D.
Austin, V. Chondrogianni, E. Daskalaki, N. Katsos, M.
Mavrogiorgos, G. Newton, E. Orfanidou, M.J. Reeve, and J.
Srioutai, editors, Proceedings of the Second Postgraduate
Conference on Language Research, Cambridge, UK, 2004.
Hans Den Besten and Gert Webelhuth. Remnant topicalization and
the constituent structure of the VP in the germanic SOV
languages. GLOW Newsletter, 18:15--16, 1987.
James Huang. Remarks on the status of the null object. In
Robert Freidin, editor, Principles and Parameters in
Comparative Grammar, pages 56--76. MIT Press, Cambridge,
O. Jaeggli and N. Hyams. On the independence and
interdependence of syntactic and morphological properties:
English aspectual come and go. Natural Language and
Linguistic Theory, 11:313--346, 1993.
M. Julien. Syntactic heads and word formation: A study of
verbal inflection. PhD thesis, University of Tromsoe, 2000.
Fritz Ponelis. The Development of Afrikaans. Die Deutsche
Bibliothek, Frankfurt am Main, 1993.
J. Pullum. Constraints on intransitive quasi-serial verb
constructions in modern colloquial English. In B. Joseph
and A. Zwicky, editors, When Verbs Collide: Papers from the
1990 Ohio State Mini-Conference on Serial Verbs, number 39
in Ohio State University Working Papers in
Linguistics,pages 218--239, Columbus, Ohio, 1990. Ohio
Karin Robbers. Non-Finite Verbal Complements in Afrikaans. PhD
thesis, University of Amsterdam, 1997.
Jan-Wouter Zwart. Dutch is Head-Initial. The Linguistic
Review, 11(3): 377--406, 1994.
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