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Article

Franz Rainer

Blocking can be defined as the non-occurrence of some linguistic form, whose existence could be expected on general grounds, due to the existence of a rival form. *Oxes, for example, is blocked by oxen, *stealer by thief. Although blocking is closely associated with morphology, in reality the competing “forms” can not only be morphemes or words, but can also be syntactic units. In German, for example, the compound Rotwein ‘red wine’ blocks the phrasal unit *roter Wein (in the relevant sense), just as the phrasal unit rote Rübe ‘beetroot; lit. red beet’ blocks the compound *Rotrübe. In these examples, one crucial factor determining blocking is synonymy; speakers apparently have a deep-rooted presumption against synonyms. Whether homonymy can also lead to a similar avoidance strategy, is still controversial. But even if homonymy blocking exists, it certainly is much less systematic than synonymy blocking. In all the examples mentioned above, it is a word stored in the mental lexicon that blocks a rival formation. However, besides such cases of lexical blocking, one can observe blocking among productive patterns. Dutch has three suffixes for deriving agent nouns from verbal bases, -er, -der, and -aar. Of these three suffixes, the first one is the default choice, while -der and -aar are chosen in very specific phonological environments: as Geert Booij describes in The Morphology of Dutch (2002), “the suffix -aar occurs after stems ending in a coronal sonorant consonant preceded by schwa, and -der occurs after stems ending in /r/” (p. 122). Contrary to lexical blocking, the effect of this kind of pattern blocking does not depend on words stored in the mental lexicon and their token frequency but on abstract features (in the case at hand, phonological features). Blocking was first recognized by the Indian grammarian Pāṇini in the 5th or 4th century bc, when he stated that of two competing rules, the more restricted one had precedence. In the 1960s, this insight was revived by generative grammarians under the name “Elsewhere Principle,” which is still used in several grammatical theories (Distributed Morphology and Paradigm Function Morphology, among others). Alternatively, other theories, which go back to the German linguist Hermann Paul, have tackled the phenomenon on the basis of the mental lexicon. The great advantage of this latter approach is that it can account, in a natural way, for the crucial role played by frequency. Frequency is also crucial in the most promising theory, so-called statistical pre-emption, of how blocking can be learned.

Article

Computational models of human sentence comprehension help researchers reason about how grammar might actually be used in the understanding process. Taking a cognitivist approach, this article relates computational psycholinguistics to neighboring fields (such as linguistics), surveys important precedents, and catalogs open problems.

Article

Howard Lasnik and Terje Lohndal

Noam Avram Chomsky is one of the central figures of modern linguistics. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. In 1945, Chomsky enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Zellig Harris (1909–1992), a leading Structuralist, through their shared political interests. His first encounter with Harris’s work was when he proof-read Harris’s book Methods in Structural Linguistics, published in 1951 but completed already in 1947. Chomsky grew dissatisfied with Structuralism and started to develop his own major idea that syntax and phonology are in part matters of abstract representations. This was soon combined with a psychobiological view of language as a unique part of the mind/brain. Chomsky spent 1951–1955 as a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, after which he joined the faculty at MIT under the sponsorship of Morris Halle. He was promoted to full professor of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1961, appointed Ferrari Ward Professor of Linguistics in 1966, and Institute Professor in 1976, retiring in 2002. Chomsky is still remarkably active, publishing, teaching, and lecturing across the world. In 1967, both the University of Chicago and the University of London awarded him honorary degrees, and since then he has been the recipient of scores of honors and awards. In 1988, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in basic science, created in 1984 in order to recognize work in areas not included among the Nobel Prizes. These honors are all a testimony to Chomsky’s influence and impact in linguistics and cognitive science more generally over the past 60 years. His contributions have of course also been heavily criticized, but nevertheless remain crucial to investigations of language. Chomsky’s work has always centered around the same basic questions and assumptions, especially that human language is an inherent property of the human mind. The technical part of his research has continuously been revised and updated. In the 1960s phrase structure grammars were developed into what is known as the Standard Theory, which transformed into the Extended Standard Theory and X-bar theory in the 1970s. A major transition occurred at the end of the 1970s, when the Principles and Parameters Theory emerged. This theory provides a new understanding of the human language faculty, focusing on the invariant principles common to all human languages and the points of variation known as parameters. Its recent variant, the Minimalist Program, pushes the approach even further in asking why grammars are structured the way they are.

Article

Masayoshi Shibatani

The major achievements in syntactic typology garnered nearly 50 years ago by acclaimed typologists such as Edward Keenan and Bernard Comrie continue to exert enormous influence in the field, deserving periodic appraisals in the light of new discoveries and insights. With an increased understanding of them in recent years, typologically controversial ergative and Philippine-type languages provide a unique opportunity to reassess the issues surrounding the delicately intertwined topics of grammatical relations and relative clauses (RCs), perhaps the two foremost topics in syntactic typology. Keenan’s property-list approach to the grammatical relation subject brings wrong results for ergative and Philippine-type languages, both of which have at their disposal two primary grammatical relations of subject and absolutive in the former and of subject and topic in the latter. Ergative languages are characterized by their deployment of arguments according to both the nominative (S=A≠P) and the ergative (S=P≠A) pattern. Phenomena such as nominal morphology and relativization are typically controlled by the absolutive relation, defined as a union of {S, P} resulting from a P-based generalization. Other phenomena such as the second person imperative deletion and a gap control in compound (coordinate) sentences involve as a pivot the subject relation, defined as an {S, A} grouping resulting from an A-based generalization. Ergative languages, thus, clearly demonstrate that grammatical relations are phenomenon/construction specific. Philippine-type languages reinforce this point by their possession of subjects, as defined above, and a pragmatico-syntactic relation of topic correlated with the referential prominence of a noun phrase (NP) argument. As in ergative languages, certain phenomena, for example, controlling of a gap in the want-type control construction, operate in terms of the subject, while others, for example, relativization, revolve around the topic. With regard to RCs, the points made above bear directly on the claim by Keenan and Comrie that subjects are universally the most relativizable of NP’s, justifying the high end of the Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy. A new nominalization perspective on relative clauses reveals that grammatical relations are actually irrelevant to the relativization process per se, and that the widely embraced typology of RCs, recognizing so-called headless and internally headed RCs and others as construction types, is misguided in that RCs in fact do not exist as independent grammatical structures; they are merely epiphenomenal to the usage patterns of two types of grammatical nominalizations. The so-called subject relativization (e.g., You should marry a man who loves you ) involves a head noun and a subject argument nominalization (e.g., [who [Ø loves you]]) that are joined together forming a larger NP constituent in the manner similar to the way a head noun and an adjectival modifier are brought together in a simple attributive construction (e.g., a rich man) with no regard to grammatical relations. The same argument nominalization can head an NP (e.g., You should marry who loves you ). This is known as a headless RC, while it is in fact no more than an NP use of an argument nominalization, as opposed to the modification use of the same structure in the ordinary restrictive RC seen above. So-called internally headed RCs involve event nominalizations (e.g., Quechua Maria wallpa-ta wayk’u-sqa-n -ta mik”u-sayku [Maria chicken-acc cook-P.nmlzr-3sg-acc eat-prog.1pl], lit. “We are eating Maria cook a chicken,” and English I heard John sing in the kitchen ) that evoke various substantive entities metonymically related to the event, such as event protagonists (as in the Quechua example), results (as in the English example), and abstract entities such as facts and propositions (e.g., I know that John sings in the kitchen ).