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Article

A root is a fundamental minimal unit in words. Some languages do not allow their roots to appear on their own, as in the Semitic languages where roots consist of consonant clusters that become stems or words by virtue of vowel insertion. Other languages appear to allow roots to surface without any additional morphology, as in English car. Roots are typically distinguished from affixes in that affixes need a host, although this varies within different theories. Traditionally roots have belonged to the domain of morphology. More recently, though, new theories have emerged according to which words are decomposed and subject to the same principles as sentences. That makes roots a fundamental building block of sentences, unlike words. Contemporary syntactic theories of roots hold that they have little if any grammatical information, which raises the question of how they acquire their seemingly grammatical properties. A central issue has revolved around whether roots have a lexical category inherently or whether they are given a lexical category in some other way. Two main theories are distributed morphology and the exoskeletal approach to grammar. The former holds that roots merge with categorizers in the grammar: a root combined with a nominal categorizer becomes a noun, and a root combined with a verbal categorizer becomes a verb. On the latter approach, it is argued that roots are inserted into syntactic structures which carry the relevant category, meaning that the syntactic environment is created before roots are inserted into the structure. The two views make different predictions and differ in particular in their view of the status of empty categorizers.

Article

Floris Roelofsen

This survey article discusses two basic issues that semantic theories of questions face. The first is how to conceptualize and formally represent the semantic content of questions. This issue arises in particular because the standard truth-conditional notion of meaning, which has been fruitful in the analysis of declarative statements, is not applicable to questions. This is because questions are not naturally construed as being true or false. Instead, it has been proposed that the semantic content of a question must be characterized in terms of its answerhood or resolution conditions. This article surveys a number of theories which develop this basic idea in different ways, focusing on so-called proposition-set theories (alternative semantics, partition semantics, and inquisitive semantics). The second issue that will be considered here concerns questions that are embedded within larger sentences. Within this domain, one important puzzle is why certain predicates can take both declarative and interrogative complements (e.g., Bill knows that Mary called / Bill knows who called), while others take only declarative complements (e.g., Bill thinks that Mary called / *Bill thinks who called) or only interrogative complements (e.g., Bill wonders who called / *Bill wonders that Mary called). We compare two general approaches that have been pursued in the literature. One assumes that declarative and interrogative complements differ in semantic type. On this approach, the fact that predicates like think do not take interrogative complements can be accounted for by assuming that such complements do not have the semantic type that think selects for. The other approach treats the two kinds of complement as having the same semantic type, and seeks to connect the selectional restrictions of predicates like think to other semantic properties (e.g., the fact that think is neg-raising).

Article

Laura Grestenberger

Deponency refers to mismatches between morphological form and syntactic function (or “meaning”), such that a given morphological exponent appears in a syntactic environment that is unexpected from the point of view of its canonical (“normal” or “expected”) function. This phenomenon takes its name from Latin, where certain morphologically “passive” verbs appear in syntactically active contexts (for example, hort-or ‘I encourage’, with the same ending as passive am-or ‘I am loved’), but it occurs in other languages as well. Moreover, the term has been extended to include mismatches in other domains, such as number mismatches in nominal morphology or tense mismatches on verbs (e.g., in the Germanic preterite-presents). Theoretical treatments of deponency vary from seeking a unified (and uniform) account of all observed mismatches to arguing that the wide range of cross-linguistically attested form-function mismatches does not form a natural class and does not require explanatory devices specific to the domain of morphology. It has also been argued that some apparent mismatches are “spurious” and have been misanalyzed. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed across frameworks that however such “morphological mismatches” are to be analyzed, deponency has potential ramifications for theories of the syntax-morphology interface and (depending on one’s theoretical approach) the structure of the lexicon.

Article

Clitics can be defined as prosodically defective function words. They can belong to a number of syntactic categories, such as articles, pronouns, prepositions, complementizers, negative adverbs, or auxiliaries. They do not generally belong to open classes, like verbs, nouns, or adjectives. Their prosodically defective character is most often manifested by the absence of stress, which in turn correlates with vowel reduction in those languages that have it independently; sometimes the clitic can be just a consonant or a consonant cluster, with no vowel. This same prosodically defective character forces them to attach either to the word that follows them (proclisis) or to the word that precedes them (enclisis); in some cases they even appear inside a word (mesoclisis or endoclisis). The word to which a clitic attaches is called the host. In some languages (like some dialects of Italian or Catalan) enclitics can surface as stressed, but the presence of stress can be argued to be the result of assignment of stress to the host-clitic complex, not to the clitic itself. One consequence of clitics being prosodically defective is that they cannot be the sole element of an utterance, for instance as an answer to some question; they need to always appear with a host. A useful distinction is that between simple clitics and special clitics. Simple clitics often have a nonclitic variant and appear in the expected syntactic position for nonclitics of their syntactic category. Much more attention has been paid in the literature to special clitics. Special clitics appear in a designated position within the clause or within the noun phrase (or determiner phrase). In several languages certain clitics must appear in second position, within the clause, as in most South Slavic languages, or within the noun phrase, as in Kwakw'ala. The pronominal clitics of Romance languages or Greek must have the verb as a host and appear in a position different from the full noun phrase. A much debated question is whether the position of special clitics is the result of syntactic movement, or whether other factors, morphological or phonological, intervene as well or are the sole motivation for their position. Clitics can also cluster, with some languages allowing only sequences of two clitics, and other languages allowing longer sequences. Here one relevant question is what determines the order of the clitics, with the main avenues of analysis being approaches based on syntactic movement, approaches based on the types of morphosyntactic features each clitic has, and approaches based on templates. An additional issue concerning clitic clusters is the incompatibility between specific clitics when combined and the changes that this incompatibility can provoke in the form of one or more of the clitics. Combinations of identical or nearly identical clitics are often disallowed, and the constraint known as the Person-Case Constraint (PCC) disallows combinations of clitics with a first or second person accusative clitic (a direct object, DO, clitic) and a third person (and sometimes also first or second person) dative clitic (an indirect object, IO, clitic). In all these cases either one of the clitics surfaces with the form of another clitic or one of the clitics does not surface; sometimes there is no possible output. Here again both syntactic and morphological approaches have been proposed.

Article

The Motor Theory of Speech Perception is a proposed explanation of the fundamental relationship between the way speech is produced and the way it is perceived. Associated primarily with the work of Liberman and colleagues, it posited the active participation of the motor system in the perception of speech. Early versions of the theory contained elements that later proved untenable, such as the expectation that the neural commands to the muscles (as seen in electromyography) would be more invariant than the acoustics. Support drawn from categorical perception (in which discrimination is quite poor within linguistic categories but excellent across boundaries) was called into question by studies showing means of improving within-category discrimination and finding similar results for nonspeech sounds and for animals perceiving speech. Evidence for motor involvement in perceptual processes nonetheless continued to accrue, and related motor theories have been proposed. Neurological and neuroimaging results have yielded a great deal of evidence consistent with variants of the theory, but they highlight the issue that there is no single “motor system,” and so different components appear in different contexts. Assigning the appropriate amount of effort to the various systems that interact to result in the perception of speech is an ongoing process, but it is clear that some of the systems will reflect the motor control of speech.

Article

Jessica Coon and Clint Parker

The phenomenon of case has been studied widely at both the descriptive and theoretical levels. Typological work on morphological case systems has provided a picture of the variability of case cross-linguistically. In particular, languages may differ with respect to whether or not arguments are marked with overt morphological case, the inventory of cases with which they may be marked, and the alignment of case marking (e.g., nominative-accusative vs. ergative-absolutive). In the theoretical realm, not only has morphological case been argued to play a role in multiple syntactic phenomena, but current generative work also debates the role of abstract case (i.e., Case) in the grammar: abstract case features have been proposed to underlie morphological case, and to license nominals in the derivation. The phenomenon of case has been argued to play a role in at least three areas of the syntax reviewed here: (a) agreement, (b) A-movement, and (c) A’-movement. Morphological case has been shown to determine a nominal argument’s eligibility to participate in verbal agreement, and recent work has argued that languages vary as to whether movement to subject position is case-sensitive. As for case-sensitive A’-movement, recent literature on ergative extraction restrictions debates whether this phenomenon should be seen as another instance of “case discrimination” or whether the pattern arises from other properties of ergative languages. Finally, other works discussed here have examined agreement and A’-extraction patterns in languages with no visible case morphology. The presence of patterns and typological gaps—both in languages with overt morphological case and in those without it—lends support to the relevance of abstract case in the syntax.

Article

Yarden Kedar

A fundamental question in epistemological philosophy is whether reason may be based on a priori knowledge—that is, knowledge that precedes and which is independent of experience. In modern science, the concept of innateness has been associated with particular behaviors and types of knowledge, which supposedly have been present in the organism since birth (in fact, since fertilization)—prior to any sensory experience with the environment. This line of investigation has been traditionally linked to two general types of qualities: the first consists of instinctive and inflexible reflexes, traits, and behaviors, which are apparent in survival, mating, and rearing activities. The other relates to language and cognition, with certain concepts, ideas, propositions, and particular ways of mental computation suggested to be part of one’s biological make-up. While both these types of innatism have a long history (e.g., debate by Plato and Descartes), some bias appears to exist in favor of claims for inherent behavioral traits, which are typically accepted when satisfactory empirical evidence is provided. One famous example is Lorenz’s demonstration of imprinting, a natural phenomenon that obeys a predetermined mechanism and schedule (incubator-hatched goslings imprinted on Lorenz’s boots, the first moving object they encountered). Likewise, there seems to be little controversy in regard to predetermined ways of organizing sensory information, as is the case with the detection and classification of shapes and colors by the mind. In contrast, the idea that certain types of abstract knowledge may be part of an organism’s biological endowment (i.e., not learned) is typically met with a greater sense of skepticism. The most influential and controversial claim for such innate knowledge in modern science is Chomsky’s nativist theory of Universal Grammar in language, which aims to define the extent to which human languages can vary; and the famous Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus. The main Chomskyan hypothesis is that all human beings share a preprogrammed linguistic infrastructure consisting of a finite set of general principles, which can generate (through combination or transformation) an infinite number of (only) grammatical sentences. Thus, the innate grammatical system constrains and structures the acquisition and use of all natural languages.

Article

M. Teresa Espinal and Jaume Mateu

Idioms, conceived as fixed multi-word expressions that conceptually encode non-compositional meaning, are linguistic units that raise a number of questions relevant in the study of language and mind (e.g., whether they are stored in the lexicon or in memory, whether they have internal or external syntax similar to other expressions of the language, whether their conventional use is parallel to their non-compositional meaning, whether they are processed in similar ways to regular compositional expressions of the language, etc.). Idioms show some similarities and differences with other sorts of formulaic expressions, the main types of idioms that have been characterized in the linguistic literature, and the dimensions on which idiomaticity lies. Syntactically, idioms manifest a set of syntactic properties, as well as a number of constraints that account for their internal and external structure. Semantically, idioms present an interesting behavior with respect to a set of semantic properties that account for their meaning (i.e., conventionality, compositionality, and transparency, as well as aspectuality, referentiality, thematic roles, etc.). The study of idioms has been approached from lexicographic and computational, as well as from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives.

Article

Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeijlstra

Many, and according to some estimates most, of the world’s languages allow the subject of the sentence to be unexpressed, a phenomenon known as ‘pro(noun) drop’. In a language like Italian, Gianni parla ‘Gianni speaks’ and Parla ‘(S)he speaks’ are both grammatical sentences. This is in contrast to a language like English, in which not expressing the subject leads to an ungrammatical sentence: *Speaks. The difference between being and not being able to leave the subject unexpressed (or, to put it differently, to have a ‘null subject’) has been related to the richness of the verbal paradigm of a language. Whereas Italian has six different agreement endings in the present tense, English only marks the third-person singular differently (with an -s affix, as in John speak-s). Although this correlation with rich agreement is pervasive, it does not successfully capture all the cross-linguistic variation that is attested. Languages like Japanese and Chinese, for instance, allow unexpressed arguments (including subjects) in the absence of any agreement. For these languages, it has been observed that their pronominal paradigms tend to have transparent, agglutinative nominal morphology, expressing case or number features. Trickier perhaps are languages that allow pro drop under certain conditions only. Some languages, such as Finnish or colloquial variants of German, allow it in certain but not all person/number contexts. Other languages, such as Icelandic, allow the subject to be unexpressed only if it is an expletive, the counterpart of English it (cf. It is raining) or there (There is a man in the garden). For these so-called partial pro drop languages, it is still unclear if one can relate their more restricted absence of overt subjects to other observable properties that they possess.

Article

Denominal verbs are verbs formed from nouns by means of various word-formation processes such as derivation, conversion, or less common mechanisms like reduplication, change of pitch, or root and pattern. Because their well-formedness is determined by morphosyntactic, phonological, and semantic constraints, they have been analyzed from a variety of lexicalist and non-lexicalist perspectives, including Optimality Theory, Lexical Semantics, Cognitive Grammar, Onomasiology, and Neo-Construction Grammar. Independently of their structural shape, denominal verbs have in common that they denote events in which the referents of their base nouns (e.g., computer in the case of computerize) participate in a non-arbitrary way. While traditional labels like ‘ornative’, ‘privative’, ‘locative’, ‘instrumental’ and the like allow for a preliminary classification of denominal verbs, a more formal description has to account for at least three basic aspects, namely (1) competition among functionally similar word-formation patterns, (2) the polysemy of affixes, which precludes a neat one-to-one relation between derivatives displaying a particular affix and a particular semantic class, and (3) the relevance of generic knowledge and contextual information for the interpretation of (innovative) denominal verbs.