LINGUIST List 23.1810

Mon Apr 09 2012

Review: Historical Linguistics; Syntax: Jonas et al. (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 09-Apr-2012
From: George Walkden <>
Subject: Grammatical Change
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EDITORS: Dianne Jonas, John Whitman, Andrew GarrettTITLE: Grammatical ChangeSUBTITLE: Origins, Nature, OutcomesPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2012

George Walkden, Department of Linguistics & English Language, University ofManchester

SUMMARYThis volume has its origins in the Eighth Diachronic Generative Syntax (DiGS)conference, at Yale in 2004. The seventeen papers within showcase a variety oflanguages and perspectives.

The first four chapters all deal with the vexed question of the relationshipbetween one of the founding assumptions of diachronic generative syntax -- thedenial of independent diachronic principles -- and apparent directionalities ofchange in the historical record. Paul Kiparsky's opener is characteristicallyambitious. The paper seeks to restore a version of the definition of"grammaticalization" proposed by its coiner, Meillet (1912), in place of thedefinitions familiar from modern work on the topic; Kiparsky also defends aversion of unidirectionality. The notions of grammaticalization and analogy areput to work to explain a wide variety of changes relating to Finno-Ugric casesystems. Kiparsky is sceptical about the explanatory force of reanalysis - atheme picked up by Andrew Garrett's chapter, which is a blistering assault onthe perceived reanalocentricity of modern historical syntax. Garrett takes issuewith the textbook account of the emergence of _for_ NP _to_ VP infinitivals,according to which this pattern arose through reanalysis of the object of thepreposition as an infinitival subject; instead he suggests that the sourceconstruction was the simple NP to VP infinitival pattern, with _for_ beingborrowed from the purposive _for to_ VP construction by analogy.

The following chapter, by Batllori & Roca, aims to characterize the synchronicand diachronic variation across Ibero-Romance in the alternation between ser andestar. This is done by means of a careful formal analysis of the syntax andsemantics of the relevant constructions, supported by much data, and a proposedgrammaticalization trajectory consistent with the principles proposed by Roberts& Roussou (2003) and van Gelderen (2004). David Willis's chapter on Jespersen'sCycle in Welsh rounds off this section. Notable here is the substantialdiscussion of stage 2 of the cycle, arguing that the new negator in Welsh, ddim,passes through a stage of being a negative polarity item before being reanalysedas a pure SpecNegP element. The chapter also contains valuable discussion of thelexical approach to syntactic variation in relation to acquisition and change.

Section 2 is devoted to the nominal domain, an area which has not been asextensively explored in diachronic generative syntax as the clausal/verbaldomain but which is well-represented here. Bergeton & Pancheva address thedevelopment of English reflexives, arguing against existing analyses in favourof one in which a new phonologically null reflexive emerged to take over fromthe personal pronouns. Pronoun + _self_, in the meantime, emerged not as areflexive but as an intensifier, and only begins to be grammaticalized as areflexive in the Modern English period. Gertjan Postma's chapter continues thereflexive theme, with a focus on the innovation of the reflexive zich in easternDutch dialects. His thesis is that internally-driven change created a gap in thelinguistic system which needed to be filled, with dialects of German servingmerely as the source from which zich was co-opted. Quantitative data is drawnfrom a new diachronic corpus of 15th-century eastern Dutch.

With the next two papers we move from reflexives to Balkan definite articles.Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov discuss the rise of the article inBulgarian.They present a range of diagnostics for article status which theyargue show that in Old Bulgarian the demonstrative had already been partiallygrammaticalized as a definite article. Cristina Guardiano's chapter deals withchanges in the history of articles in Greek, focusing mainly on the apparentoptionally of occurrence of the definite article in Ancient Greek. Herconclusion is that a null expletive is possible in Ancient Greek, and that thisis linked to the fact that +/-count has not yet been grammaticalized at thisstage. Rounding off the section on nominals is Paola Crisma's chapter ongenitives in the history of English. Crisma shows that the distribution ofgenitives in Old English, though on the surface exhibiting wide variation, canbe reduced to a few core patterns with semantic and structural differencesbetween them, and explores some of the consequences of the loss of postnominalgenitives.

The following five papers are on the clausal domain. Eric Haeberli & SusanPintzuk's chapter is a detailed quantitative study of verb clusters in OldEnglish, showing that this stage of the language conforms to generalizationsmade about verb clusters on the basis of modern West Germanic, and that therelevant structural properties do not change significantly over the Old Englishperiod. The chapter by van Kemenade & Milićev addresses subject positions inearly English; they argue that assuming the adverbs tha and thonne to occupyfixed positions in subordinate clauses, serving as information-structuralpartitions, sheds light on the distribution of subjects. To finish up theEnglish-fest we have Brady Clarkfs paper, which also addresses the question ofsubject positions in the history of English but from a radically differenttheoretical perspective. Clark explores the application of Stochastic OptimalityTheory to diachronic syntax, providing an interesting challenge to standardcategorical approaches to variation and change.

Ana Maria Martins examines the percolation of Portuguese inflected infinitivesinto ECM environments, suggesting that independent clauses containing aninflected infinitive could be reanalysed by acquirers as gapped embedded clauseswhen conjoined to and following a clause containing an ECM verb. Thisconfiguration also paved the way for embedded negation in non-finite structures.John Sundquist's chapter, meanwhile, looks at negative movement in Norwegian, arelic of a once more widely productive OV pattern. He analyses its retention interms of Sobin's (1997) Virus Theory, as the result of a process operatingoutside the core grammar for sociolinguistic reasons.

With the final section we 'zoom out' from exclusively European languages toUto-Aztecan and Austronesian, to consider issues of morphosyntactic typology.The thesis of Jason Haugen's chapter is that a decomposition of Baker's (2001)Polysynthesis Parameter is needed. He supports this with evidence from a varietyof languages; however, the main focus of the chapter is on the history ofNahuatl. Haugen outlines a scenario in which object polysynthesis wasgrammaticalized first, followed by subject polysynthesis, with nounincorporation a separate parameter. Last but not least is Edith Aldridge's paperon alignment change in Austronesian languages. She puts forth an analysis inwhich absolutive case is valued by T in intransitives and v in transitives, andoutlines a theory of the change from ergative to accusative in which thedecisive step is the reanalysis of the antipassive as transitive.

EVALUATIONThere is no doubt that this long-awaited volume will be an invaluable resourcefor historical syntacticians. Beyond that, however, the first part of the volumein particular serves as a great introduction to, and manifesto for, the "DiGSapproach" to historical syntax. The introduction lays out three principles - anemphasis on rigorous synchronic description, an emphasis on reliable andwell-understood data, and scepticism towards independent diachronic processes -that are fundamental to this approach. Historical linguists dissatisfied withthe reification of diachronic grammars and explanatory handwaving stilloccasionally found elsewhere in the literature would do well to turn to this book.

Another great strength of this volume, and indicative of the depth that thefield is now reaching, is the incorporation and formalization of semantic,pragmatic and information-structural factors in some accounts (e.g. Batllori &Roca, Bergeton & Pancheva, van Kemenade & Miliæev, Sundquist): sophisticatedmodelling of continuity and change in these areas is essential if we want to getthe bigger picture, especially given the now-widespread view that syntacticchange itself is rare and occurs only when it has to (Keenan 1994, Longobardi2001), or that syntactic change per se may not even exist (Hale 1998: 14). Ingeneral, though, the level of formal analysis across the papers is extremelyvariable: while some contain detailed analyses (e.g. Willis, Clark, Aldridge),others merely hint at what the formalization of their approach would be (e.g.Garrett, Haugen). The latter approach is not necessarily problematic, assumingwith Chomsky (1990: 145-146) that formalization is a means to an end rather thanan end in itself. However, the extra rigour provided by description within awell-articulated formal framework is one of the cornerstones of the DiGSliterature, and I hope that this does not decline with future volumes.

The book is well laid out and typeset, and typos and other errors (e.g."Lighfoot", p4; "peeks" for "peaks", p148; "6 case in where", p242) are rare. Asregards the content of the volume, I have two main criticisms, relating to theuse of quantitative data and to discussion of diachrony more generally, which Iwill discuss in turn.

In the introduction it is stressed, rightly, that diachronic syntacticians havebeen instrumental in the development of annotated corpora for historicallinguistic research. This is with good reason: since students ofhistorically-attested languages have no access to speaker judgements, allhistorical syntax is either corpus linguistics or bad corpus linguistics. Withfew exceptions, however, the papers in this volume are unforthcoming with regardto their evidential basis. In particular, few papers present quantitativeinformation, and where such information is presented the authors often play fastand loose. Postma, for instance, provides a number of graphs showing percentages(pp142-144) but does not give the percentages in numeric form or the rawnumbers; Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov provide percentages, but without rawnumbers, and use the phrase "statistically significant" (p165) without referenceto any statistical test; Crisma, while presenting more substantial data, refersto a ratio of "about 1:100" (p203). The only authors to make use of inferentialstatistics are Haeberli & Pintzuk and Clark. Of course, the provision ofquantitative data, like formalization, is only a means to an end; the numbersonly tell us what we might want to consider explaining, and do not provideexplanations in and of themselves. Nevertheless, given that another of the DiGScornerstones as expressed by the introduction is the use of reliable data, it isto be hoped that future volumes of this kind will contain higher levels ofquantitative sophistication, as this enables the reader to have greaterconfidence in the evidential basis of the claims being made.

The third DiGS cornerstone set out by the introduction is the rejection ofindependent principles of change as diachronically causal. While thisconstitutes an important methodological advance, it is notable in this volumethat many of the papers do not focus on explaining syntactic change at all (e.g.Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov, Guardiano, Haeberli & Pintzuk, van Kemenade &Miliæev, Haugen). In those papers in which more than one synchronic stage isdiscussed, the link between the two stages is often given very littlespaceGuardiano, for instance, briefly mentions that a generalization underdiscussion is "the consequence of a parameter resetting" (p192), and Haugendiscusses a number of stages but only attempts to link them together on p330with a brief discussion of possible reanalyses. It goes without saying that thejuxtaposition of two accounts of the synchronic syntax of different stages of alanguage, however elegant and well-motivated the analyses might be, does notconstitute an explanation for a change, even though such analysis is aprerequisite for successful discussion of diachrony. The rejection ofindependent principles of change is all well and good, but should not lead toavoidance of addressing the causes of change.

The papers by Kiparsky and Garrett do focus on the mechanisms of change, arguingthat reanalysis occupies too dominant a position in historical syntacticexplanation; see also de Smet (2009). However, like de Smet, both propose tosolve the perceived problem with recourse to analogy, and I have somereservations about this. Kiparsky's notion of analogy is very powerful: it maybe proportional or non-proportional (p48), exemplar-based or non-exemplar-based(p49), and paradigmatic or non-paradigmatic (p41); and it subsumesdegrammaticalization. Whether grammaticalization is also subsumed under theheading of analogy is rather unclear from the paper: Kiparsky demonstrates,convincingly, that the interaction of grammaticalization and analogy is complex(pp23-37), argues that grammaticalization (like degrammaticalization) is aspecial case of analogical change (p49), then concludes that analogical changeand grammaticalization are "mechanisms" of change that can interact (p51). Hecriticizes reanalysis for being a 'looser' theory of change (p50), but byreducing essentially all grammatical change to analogy it seems to me thatKiparsky has reinstated analogy as a 'dustbin category', of no theoreticalconsequence and making no empirical predictions in itself. Garrett, meanwhile,while attacking the 'blinkered' attachment of many historical syntacticians toreanalysis, offers no particular definition of analogy beyond the traditionalvague intuition (p52). While I accept that reanalysis can be abused in the waythat Kiparsky and Garrett are cautioning against, then, I see no reason torelegate it to a back seat - particularly in view of the elegantreanalysis-based accounts of change elsewhere in this volume (Willis, Martins,Aldridge).

In sum, though, this volume shows that approaching historical syntax from agenerative perspective can be fruitful. It shows that proponents of thisapproach are not afraid to question old orthodoxies, test out the implicationsof new theories, or explore areas of grammar beyond the syntax itself, and itshows that they are committed, by and large, to a rigorous methodology fordescription. All in all, this volume shows that the field is thriving.Historical syntax is by its nature a backward-looking discipline, but looking tothe future, with a volume such as this in hand, one can't fail to be excited.

REFERENCESBaker, Mark C. 2001. The atoms of language: the mind's hidden rules of grammar.New York: Basic Books.

Chomsky, Noam. 1990. On formalization and formal linguistics. Natural Language &Linguistic Theory 8, 143-147.

De Smet, Hendrik. 2009. Analysing reanalysis. Lingua 119, 1728-1755.

Gelderen, Elly van. 2004. Grammaticalization as economy. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hale, Mark. 1998. Diachronic syntax. Syntax 1, 1-18.

Keenan, Edward. 1994. Creating anaphors: an historical study of the Englishreflexive pronouns. Ms., University of California at Los Angeles.

Longobardi, Giuseppe. 2001. Formal syntax, diachronic Minimalism, and etymology:the history of French chez. Linguistic Inquiry 32, 275-302.

Meillet, Antoine. 1912. L'évolution des formes grammaticales. Scientia 12, 384-400.

Roberts, Ian, & Anna Roussou. 2003. Syntactic change: a Minimalist approach togrammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sobin, Nicholas. 1997. Agreement, default rules, and grammatical viruses.Linguistic Inquiry 28, 318-343.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERGeorge Walkden is a Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics & EnglishLanguage, University of Manchester. His PhD dissertation, on aspects ofearly Germanic clause structure and the methodology of syntacticreconstruction, is near completion. He is also the editor of therecently-founded Journal of Historical Syntax (

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