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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.

Article

Silvio Moreira de Sousa, Johannes Mücke, and Philipp Krämer

As an institutionalized subfield of academic research, Creole studies (or Creolistics) emerged in the second half of the 20th century on the basis of pioneering works in the last decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Yet its research traditions—just like the Creole languages themselves—are much older and are deeply intertwined with the history of European colonialism, slavery, and Christian missionary activities all around the globe. Throughout the history of research, creolists focused on the emergence of Creole languages and their grammatical structures—often in comparison to European colonial languages. In connection with the observations in grammar and history, creolists discussed theoretical matters such as the role of language acquisition in creolization, the status of Creoles among the other languages in the world, and the social conditions in which they are or were spoken. These discussions molded the way in which the acquired knowledge was transmitted to the following generations of creolists.

Article

Jesús Fernández-Domínguez

The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extra-linguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, especially generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning. The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word-formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes, or their understanding of morphological productivity. The models adhering to such a view of language have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word-formation.

Article

Anna M. Thornton

Overabundance is the situation in which two (or more) inflectional forms are available to realize the same cell in the inflectional paradigm of a lexeme (i.e., to express the meaning arising from the combination of the lexical meaning of the lexeme and the morphosyntactic and morphosemantic feature values that define the cell). An example from English is dreamed / dreamt, both of which realize ‘dream.pst’, the past tense of the verb dream. The forms that realize the same cell are called cell mates. Certain cell mates can be used interchangeably in the same context, even by the same speaker, with no difference in style and meaning; other cell mates are subject to various kinds of conditions, so that different forms are used in different styles, registers, social or geographic dialects, or in different semantic, syntactic or pragmatic contexts. Cell mates by definition are formally different in some respect: they may display different stems (e.g., Italian sepol-to / seppelli-to ‘bury-pst.ptcp’), or different endings (e.g., Czech jazyk-u / jazyk-a ‘language-gen.sg’), they may be built according to different means (e.g., English more choosy / choosier ‘choosy.comp’, where the first cell mate is periphrastic and the second one synthetic), or they may differ in various other ways. Overabundance can be limited to a specific cell of a specific lexeme, or it can occur systematically in certain cells of certain lexemes or of all lexemes in a given word class and language (e.g., all Spanish verbs have two ways of realizing all the forms of the imperfect subjunctive). Most linguists assume that overabundance can exist only as a transitional stage during diachronic change, and that any single speaker only uses one of the cell mates available in a community’s repertoire; besides, many assume that cell mates always differ according to geo-socio-stylistic conditions, or in meaning. However, corpus based studies of specific instances of overabundance have shown that there are cases of truly interchangeable cell mates, that a single speaker can use different cell mates even within the same utterance, and that some instances of overabundance are stably attested for centuries. Language standardization often aims at eliminating overabundance, but low frequency forms may escape elimination and remain in usage. Many principles assumed to regulate language acquisition (e.g., Clark’s Principle of Contrast) ban overabundance; however, forms acquired later than in the early stages of language acquisition, sometimes only with schooling, may escape this ban. Even principles of grammar, such as Blocking, or Pāṇini’s principle, appear to entail the impossibility of having synonymous cell mates. However, much depends on the exact formulation of these principles; and the existence of cell mates can be reconciled with certain versions of them and has been acknowledged in much recent work in theoretical morphology.

Article

The category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant derived nouns comprises a conglomeration of derived nouns that denote among others agents, instruments, patients/themes, inhabitants, and followers of a person. Based on the thematic relations between the derived noun and its base lexeme, Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns can be classified into two subclasses. The first subclass comprises derived nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings (e.g., driver). The second subclass consists of derived nouns with athematic readings (e.g., Marxist). The examination of the category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns allows one to delve deeply into the study of multiplicity of meaning in word formation and the factors that bear on the readings of derived words. These factors range from the historical mechanisms that lead to multiplicity of meaning and the lexical-semantic properties of the bases that derived nouns are based on, to the syntactic context into which derived nouns occur, and the pragmatic-encyclopedic facets of both the base and the derived lexeme.

Article

Beata Moskal and Peter W. Smith

Headedness is a pervasive phenomenon throughout different components of the grammar, which fundamentally encodes an asymmetry between two or more items, such that one is in some sense more important than the other(s). In phonology for instance, the nucleus is the head of the syllable, and not the onset or the coda, whereas in syntax, the verb is the head of a verb phrase, rather than any complements or specifiers that it combines with. It makes sense, then, to question whether the notion of headedness applies to the morphology as well; specifically, do words—complex or simplex—have heads that determine the properties of the word as a whole? Intuitively it makes sense that words have heads: a noun that is derived from an adjective like redness can function only as a noun, and the presence of red in the structure does not confer on the whole form the ability to function as an adjective as well. However, this question is a complex one for a variety of reasons. While it seems clear for some phenomena such as category determination that words have heads, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the properties of complex words are not all derived from one morpheme, but rather that the features are gathered from potentially numerous morphemes within the same word. Furthermore, properties that characterize heads compared to dependents, particularly based on syntactic behavior, do not unambigously pick out a single element, but the tests applied to morphology at times pick out affixes, and at times pick out bases as the head of the whole word.