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Article

Alignment and Word Order in the Romance Languages  

Francesco Rovai

The term “alignment” refers to the formal realization of the argument structure of the clause, that is, the ways in which the core arguments of the predicate are encoded by means of three main morphosyntactic devices: nominal case marking (morphological case, adpositions), verb marking systems (verbal agreement, pronominal affixes, auxiliaries, voice distinctions, etc.), and word order. The relative importance of these mechanisms of argument coding may considerably vary from language to language. In the Romance family, a major role is played by finite verb agreement and, to a lesser extent, auxiliary selection, participial agreement, voice distinctions, and word order, depending on the language/variety. Most typically, both transitive and intransitive subjects share the same formal coding (they control finite verb agreement and precede the verb in the basic word order) and are distinguished from direct objects (which do not control finite verb agreement and follow the verb in the basic word order). This arrangement of the argument structure is traditionally known as “nominative/accusative” alignment and can be easily identified as the main alignment of the Romance languages. Note that, with very few exceptions, nominal case marking is instead “neutral,” since no overt morphological distinction is made between subject and object arguments after the loss of the Latin case system. However, although the Romance languages can legitimately be associated with an accusative alignment, it must be borne in mind that, whatever the property selected, natural languages speak against an all-encompassing, holistic typology. A language “belongs” to an alignment type only insofar as it displays a significantly above-average frequency of clause structures with that kind of argument coding, but this does not exclude the existence of several grammatical domains that partake of different alignments. In the Romance family, minor patterns are attested that are not consistent with an accusative alignment. In part, they depend on robust crosslinguistic tendencies in the distribution of the different alignment types when they coexist in the same language. In part, they reflect phenomena of morphosyntactic realignment that can be traced back to the transition from Latin to Romance, when, alongside the dominant accusative alignment of the classical language, Late Latin developed an active alignment in some domains of the grammar—a development that has its roots in Classical and Early Latin. Today, the Romance languages preserve traces of this intermediate stage, but in large part, the signs of it have been replaced with novel accusative structures. In particular, at the level of the sentence, there emerges an accusative-aligned word order, with the preverbal position realizing the default “subject” position and the postverbal position instantiating the default “object” position.

Article

Etymology and the Lexical Core of Germanic  

Robert Mailhammer

Etymologies are statements about the origin and history of linguistic items (words and structures). Typically, an etymology gives information about what historical period of a language a word or a structure was created and what kinds of processes were involved, as well as about its subsequent history. Usually, etymologies involve the reconstruction of parts or all of an item’s history including the original formation. A reconstruction is a hypothesis about the form and meaning of an ancestral form and the changes it has undergone to yield the oldest attested form. This hypothesis is based on language-internal data and data from related languages as well as our knowledge about language change. The use of comparative data is key for determining and reconstructing the ancestral form of a linguistic item. One important property of reconstructions, and hence of etymologies, is that they are probabilistic; that is, they are hypotheses that are more or less likely to be correct. Etymologies of high quality have a high level of reliability or confidence, whereas etymologies of low quality are generally only weakly supported. There is a range of factors influencing the quality of an etymology, and it is important to make clear how well-supported etymologies are when considering the etymological situation of the whole or a part of the vocabulary of a language. Two pivotal factors are the degree to which sound correspondences and related changes are regular and the strength of the correspondence pattern in terms of correspondence sets and equations. There is a significant body of work of etymological research on Germanic. This work can be broadly categorized into studies that etymologize words in a given daughter language and studies that take a more comparative approach. The focus of the literature has been on finding connections within the Indo-European family and explaining Germanic and its lexicon in terms of their development from Proto-Indo-European. Nonetheless, it is well known that the Germanic lexicon contains loans from other Indo-European languages, especially from Celtic and Latin, such as PGmc. *tūna- ‘fence’ (e.g., OHG zūn ‘fence’) borrowed from Proto-Celtic *dūno ‘fort, rampart’. It is also common knowledge that a substantial part of the Germanic vocabulary is of unclear origin. The exact amount of non-etymologized vocabulary in the Germanic lexicon is unknown, but existing quantitative data suggest that the standard figure quoted in the literature of one third is too low. However, mainstream literature has not systematically investigated Germanic words of unknown origin with the aim of finding contact etymologies that satisfy the standard requirements of contact linguistics. Since the second half of the 20th century, non-Indo-European elements in the Germanic lexicon have received more attention. The majority of hypotheses involves substratum languages. By contrast, one key observation based on what is known about outcomes of language contact, supported by well-studied cases, is that it is quite likely that some of these non-etymologized words were borrowed from non-Indo-European languages, and it is also likely that at least some of these words are from a superstratum rather than a substratum. Relevant lexical items belong to semantic domains such as warfare, the legal system, and administration, for example, PGmc. *fulka- ‘divison’ (of an army), *sibjō ‘family, clan’, *aþal-/*aþil-/*aþil- ‘nobility, noble’. Moreover, non-etymologized words relating to superior cultural innovations, for example, terms of coins (PGmc. *skellingaz/*skillinaz ‘shilling’ and PGmc. *pan(n)(d)ing ‘penny’) and agricultural innovations (PGmc. *plōg- ‘(wheel) plough’) also fit better with superstratum influence than with substratum influence. Furthermore, it is also important to highlight that words of unknown origin form part of the lexical core of Germanic, for example, *erþō ‘earth’, *handuz ‘hand’, *stainaz ‘stone’, *drinkanan ‘drink’. Whatever the origin of the hitherto non-etymologized words in the PGmc. lexicon, it is to be expected that a sizable part of them are of non-Indo-European origin. Given the significant implications for the cultural history of the people who spoke Proto-Germanic and their contemporaries, it seems well worth investigating the extra-Indo-European connections of Proto-Germanic in spite of the challenges.

Article

Discourse Markers in Chinese: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives  

Fangqiong Zhan

In the process of communication, different expressions in discourse often convey unequal amounts of information: some expressions have rich semantic content, expressing the specific message that the speaker wishes to convey; others seem to be nonsemantic and non-truth-conditional. The latter are not part of the propositional content the message conveys and do not contribute to the meaning of the proposition. These expressions mainly function as a relational operator to connect the propositions in the discourse. In a sequence of discourse segments S1–S2, such expression usually occurs at the initial position of S2 followed by a phonological break (a comma in writing), i and it does not affect the propositional content of the messages conveyed in the segments of the discourse. The discourse-functional expressions in language have long been the focus of attention on the part of scholars, and the term “discourse markers” (DMs) (huayu biaoji, in Chinese) has often been used in previous studies. The concept of DMs originated from “recurrent modifiers,” the common modifiers in spoken language proposed by the British linguist Randolph Quirk in the 1950s. He pointed out that “recurrent modifiers” have an important role in information transmission but have no grammatical effect. In the 1980s, DMs gradually became an independent linguistic topic among Western scholars. In the field of Chinese linguistics, from the 21st century onward, the concept of DMs has been examined in depth, and the application of the related theories to the research of Chinese DMs has been the topic of widespread discussion. However, most Chinese studies on DMs are case-based, and therefore systematic and theorized understandings of Chinese DMs have not yet been reached. This article reviews the research status of DMs in recent Western and Chinese linguistic communities, summarizes the studies on the synchronic semantics-pragmatics and diachronic development of Chinese DMs, and reveals issues worthy of further study in the future.

Article

Morphologically ‘Autonomous’ Structures in the Romance Languages  

Paul O'Neill

This contribution analyses morphologically autonomous structures within the context of the Romance languages, the family of languages which, along with Latin, have most served as an evidence base for these structures. Autonomous morphological structures are defined as an abstract representation of paradigmatic cells which form a cohesive group and reliably share exponents with each other, and the forms which realize them, are thus to a large extent interpredictable. In this contribution, I restrict my discussion to the most canonical type of these structures and those which have sparked the most controversy in the linguistic literature. I analyze this controversy and suggest that it is due to (a) their overlapping meaning with the term morphome, a concept which embodies an empirical claim about all morphology and (b) the controversy surrounding what morphology actually is and the basic units of morphological analysis and storage. I make a distinction between abstractive and constructive models of morphology and suggest that historical tendencies within the latter encourage scholars to view morphologically autonomous structures either as not synchronically relevant or as phonologically or semantically derivable due to their theoretical assumptions about the nature of language and the mental storage of words. These assumptions constitute the horizons of intelligibility of such models regarding the functioning of language and its governing principles, including outdated ideas of the capacity of mental storage. Unfortunately, however, the different theories furnish scholars with an expansive array of devices through which they can seemingly explain away the synchronic generalizations of the data while relegating the most recalcitrant data to the domain of memorized forms which are not relevant to the grammar. I present evidence in favor of the psychological reality of morphologically autonomous structures in diachrony and I argue that synchronically, these structures are necessary to explain the distribution of the data and capture the fact that speakers do not memorize every inflectional form of a paradigm but rely on patterns of predictability and implicational relationships between forms. It is my suggestion that morphologically autonomous structures encourage a revaluation of the basic units of memorization and the structure of the lexicon in accordance with abstractive theories of morphology.

Article

Cognitive Semantics in the Romance Languages  

Ulrich Detges

Cognitive semantics (CS) is an approach to the study of linguistic meaning. It is based on the assumption that the human linguistic capacity is part of our cognitive abilities, and that language in general and meaning in particular can therefore be better understood by taking into account the cognitive mechanisms that control the conceptual and perceptual processing of extra-linguistic reality. Issues central to CS are (a) the notion of prototype and its role in the description of language, (b) the nature of linguistic meaning, and (c) the functioning of different types of semantic relations. The question concerning the nature of meaning is an issue that is particularly controversial between CS on the one hand and structuralist and generative approaches on the other hand: is linguistic meaning conceptual, that is, part of our encyclopedic knowledge (as is claimed by CS), or is it autonomous, that is, based on abstract and language-specific features? According to CS, the most important types of semantic relations are metaphor, metonymy, and different kinds of taxonomic relations, which, in turn, can be further broken down into more basic associative relations such as similarity, contiguity, and contrast. These play a central role not only in polysemy and word formation, that is, in the lexicon, but also in the grammar.

Article

Grammaticalization in Morphology  

Muriel Norde

Grammaticalization is traditionally defined as the gradual process whereby a lexical item becomes a grammatical item (primary grammaticalization), which may be followed by further formal and semantic reduction (secondary grammaticalization). It is a composite change that may affect both phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic-pragmatic properties of a morpheme, and it is found in all the world’s languages. On the level of morphology, grammaticalization has been shown to have various effects, ranging from the loss of inflection in primary grammaticalization to the development of bound morphemes or new inflectional classes in secondary grammaticalization. Well-known examples include the development of future auxiliaries from motion verbs (e.g., English to be going to), and the development of the Romance inflection future (e.g., French chanter-ai ‘I sing’, chanter-as ‘you sing’, etc., from a verb meaning ‘to have’). Although lexical-grammatical change is overwhelmingly unidirectional, shifts in the reverse direction, called degrammaticalization, have also been shown to occur. Like grammaticalization, degrammaticalization is a composite change, which is characterized by an increase in phonological and semantic substance as well as in morphosyntactic autonomy. Accordingly, the effects on morphology are different from those in grammaticalization. In primary degrammaticalization new inflections may be acquired (e.g., the Welsh verb nôl ‘to fetch,’ from an adposition meaning ‘after’), and erstwhile bound morphemes may become free morphemes (e.g., English ish). As such effects are also found in other types of changes, degrammaticalization needs to be clearly delineated from those. For example, a shift from a minor to a major category (e.g., English ifs and buts) or the lexicalization of bound affixes (isms), likewise result in new inflections, but these are instantaneous changes, not gradual ones.

Article

Linking Elements in Morphology  

Renata Szczepaniak

Linking elements occur in compound nouns and derivatives in the Indo-European languages as well as in many other languages of the world. They can be described as sound material or graphemes with or without a phonetic correspondence appearing between two parts of a word-formation product. Linking elements are meaningless per definition. However, in many cases the clear-cut distinction between them and other, meaningful elements (like inflectional or derivational affixes) is difficult. Here, a thorough examination is necessary. Simple rules cannot describe the occurrence of linking elements. Instead, their distribution is fully erratic or at least complex, as different factors including the prosodic, morphological, or semantic properties of the word-formation components play a role and compete. The same holds for their productivity: their ability to appear in new word-formation products differs considerably and can range from strongly (prosodically, morphologically, or lexically) restricted to the virtual absence of any constraints. Linking elements should be distinguished from singular, isolated insertions (cf. Spanish rousseau-n-iano) or extensions of one specific stem or affix (cf. ‑l- in French congo-l-ais, togo-l-ais, English Congo-l-ese, Togo-l-ese). As they link two parts of a word formation, they also differ from word-final elements attached to compounds like ‑(s)I in Turkish as in ana‑dil‑i (mother‑tongue‑i) ‘mother tongue’. Furthermore, they are also distinct from infixes, i.e., derivational affixes that are inserted into a root, as well as from confixes, which are for bound, but meaningful (lexical) morphemes. Linking elements are attested in many Indo-European languages (Slavic, Romance, Germanic, Baltic languages, and Greek) as well as in other languages across the world. They seem to be more common in compounds than in derivatives. Additionally, some languages display different sets of linking elements in both compounds and derivatives. The linking inventories differ strongly even between closely related languages. For example, Frisian and Dutch, each of which has five different linking elements, share only two linking forms (‑s- and ‑e-). In some languages, linking elements are homophonous to other (meaningful) elements, e.g., inflectional or derivational suffixes. This is mostly due to their historical development and to the degree of the dissociation from their sources. This makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish between linking elements and meaningful elements. In such cases (e.g., in German or Icelandic), formal and functional differences should be taken into account. It is also possible that the homophony with the inflectional markers is incidental and not a remnant of a historical development. Generally, linking elements can have different historical sources: primary suffixes (e.g., Lithuanian), case markers (e.g., many Germanic languages), derivational suffixes (e.g., Greek), prepositions (e.g., Sardinian and English). However, the historical development of many linking elements in many languages still require further research. Depending on their distribution, linking elements can have different functions. Accordingly, the functions strongly differ from language to language. They can serve as compound markers (Greek), as “reopeners” of closed stems for further morphological processes (German), as markers of prosodically and/or morphologically complex first parts (many Germanic languages), as plural markers (Dutch and German), and as markers of genre (German).

Article

Usage-Based Linguistics  

Holger Diessel

Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.

Article

Ferdinand de Saussure  

John E. Joseph

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the founding figure of modern linguistics, made his mark on the field with a book he published a month after his 21st birthday, in which he proposed a radical rethinking of the original system of vowels in Proto-Indo-European. A year later, he submitted his doctoral thesis on a morpho-syntactic topic, the genitive absolute in Sanskrit, to the University of Leipzig. He went to Paris intending to do a second, French doctorate, but instead he was given responsibility for courses on Gothic and Old High Gerrman at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and for managing the publications of the Société de Linguistique de Paris. He abandoned more than one large publication project of his own during the decade he spent in Paris. In 1891 he returned to his native Geneva, where the University created a chair in Sanskrit and the history and comparison of languages for him. He produced some significant work on Lithuanian during this period, connected to his early book on the Indo-European vowel system, and yielding Saussure’s Law, concerning the placement of stress in Lithuanian. He undertook writing projects about the general nature of language, but again abandoned them. In 1907, 1908–1909, and 1910–1911, he gave three courses in general linguistics at the University of Geneva, in which he developed an approach to languages as systems of signs, each sign consisting of a signifier (sound pattern) and a signified (concept), both of them mental rather than physical in nature, and conjoined arbitrarily and inseparably. The socially shared language system, or langue, makes possible the production and comprehension of parole, utterances, by individual speakers and hearers. Each signifier and signified is a value generated by its difference from all the other signifiers or signifieds with which it coexists on an associative (or paradigmatic) axis, and affected as well by its syntagmatic axis. Shortly after Saussure’s death at 55, two of his colleagues, Bally and Sechehaye, gathered together students’ notes from the three courses, as well as manuscript notes by Saussure, and from them constructed the Cours de linguistique générale, published in 1916. Over the course of the next several decades, this book became the basis for the structuralist approach, initially within linguistics, and later adapted to other fields. Saussure left behind a large quantity of manuscript material that has gradually been published over the last few decades, and continues to be published, shedding new light on his thought.

Article

William Labov  

Matthew J. Gordon

William Labov (b. 1927) is an American linguist who pioneered the study of variationist sociolinguistics. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Labov studied English and philosophy at Harvard University (BA, 1948) and worked as an industrial chemist for several years before entering graduate school in linguistics at Columbia University in 1961. He completed his PhD in 1964, under the direction of Uriel Weinreich. He worked at Columbia until 1971, when he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. Labov’s influence on the field began with research he conducted in graduate school. His study of changing pronunciations on Martha’s Vineyard, the subject of his master’s thesis, introduced a method for observing sound change in progress and broke with tradition by exploring social motivations for linguistic innovations. For his PhD dissertation, Labov carried out a study of dialect patterns on the Lower East Side of New York City. Using a systematic, quantitative methodology, he demonstrated that linguistic variation is socially stratified, such that the use of pronunciation features (e.g., dropping of post-vocalic /r/) correlates with social class, ethnicity, etc. in regular patterns. Labov’s early research was greatly influential and inspired many scholars to carry out similar projects in other communities. The paradigm came to be known as variationist sociolinguistics. Much of Labov’s scholarship seeks to advance our understanding of language change. Historical linguists traditionally study completed linguistic changes, often long after they occurred, but Labov developed a method for examining active changes through a quantitative comparison of speakers representing several generations. This approach produces a new perspective on the change process by revealing intermediate stages. Labov has brought insights from this research to bear on theoretical debates within historical linguistics and the field more broadly. His work in this area has also documented many active sound changes in American English. Among these changes are innovations underway in particular dialects, such as the vowel changes in Philadelphia, as well as broader regional patterns, such as the Northern Cities Shift heard in the Great Lakes states. Throughout his career, social justice concerns have fueled Labov’s research. He has sought to demonstrate that the speech of stigmatized groups is as systematic and rule-governed as any other. He led a pioneering study in Harlem in the late 1960s that shone new light on African American English, demonstrating, for example, that grammatical usages like the deletion of the copula (e.g., He fast) are subject to regular constraints. Labov has served as an expert witness in court and before the U.S. Congress to share insights from his study of African American English. He has also worked to promote literacy for speakers of non-standard dialects, carrying out research on reading and developing material for the teaching of reading to these populations.