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LINGUIST List 21.3638

Wed Sep 15 2010

Confs: Historical Ling, Syntax/Japan

Editor for this issue: Amy Brunett <brunettlinguistlist.org>


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        1.    Jóhanna Barðdal, Reconstructing Syntax

Message 1: Reconstructing Syntax
Date: 14-Sep-2010
From: Jóhanna Barðdal <johanna.barddaluib.no>
Subject: Reconstructing Syntax
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Reconstructing Syntax

Date: 25-Jul-2011 - 30-Jul-2011
Location: Osaka, Japan
Contact: Jóhanna Barðdal
Contact Email: johanna.barddaluib.no
Meeting URL: http://org.uib.no/iecastp/IECASTP/Workshop8.htm

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics; Syntax

Meeting Description:

Historical-comparative reconstruction has traditionally been focused on lexical,
morphological and phonological comparisons, while syntactic reconstruction has
either been systematically left unattended, regarded as fruitless or
uninteresting, or even rebuked (cf. Watkins 1964, Jeffers 1976, Lightfoot 1979,
2006, Harrison 2003, Pires & Thomason 2008, Mengden 2008, inter alia). The
reason for this is that syntactic structures have been regarded as fundamentally
different from, for instance, morphological structures, in several respects.
That is, syntactic structures are larger and more complex units than
morphological units. Semantically they have not been regarded on par with
morphological units either, in that their meaning is regarded as the sum of the
meaning of the lexical parts that instantiate them, and because of this semantic
compositionality they have not been regarded as being arbitrary form-meaning
correspondences like words. It has also been argued in the literature that
syntactic structures are not inherited in the same way as the vocabulary
(Lightfoot 1979 and later work), that there is no cognate material to compare
when comparing sentences across daughter languages (Jeffers 1976), that there is
no regularity of syntactic change, as opposed to the regularity of phonological
change (Lightfoot 2002, Pirus & Thomason 2008), and that there is no
arbitrariness found in syntax (Harrison 2003), all of which render syntactic
reconstruction fundamentally different from phonological reconstruction.

Recent work within historical-comparative syntax takes issue with this view of
syntactic reconstruction (Kikusawa 2003, Harris 2008, Bauern 2008, Barðdal &
Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010), arguing that the concepts of 'cognate status,'
'arbitrariness' and 'regularity' are non-problematic for syntactic
reconstruction. This is so, first, because cognates are also found in syntax
(Kikusawa 2003, Barðdal & Eythórsson 2009, Barðdal 2010). Second, because the
arbitrariness requirement is simply not needed in syntax, as its role is first
and foremost to aid in deciding on genetic relatedness, which is usually not an
issue when doing syntactic reconstruction (Harrison 2003, Barðdal & Eythórsson
2009, Barðdal 2010). And, third, because a) the sound laws are only regular by
definition (Hoenigswald 1987), and b) the sound laws are basically stand-ins for
a similarity metric when deciding upon cognate status (Harrison 2003).

Please see http://org.uib.no/iecastp/IECASTP/Workshop8.htm for complete list of
references.
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