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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

Diatheses in Germanic  

Simon Kasper

An alternation between clauses is treated as a diathetical alternation (a) if one or more semantic roles associated with the main verb exhibit differential grammatical (i.e., morphological or syntactic) encoding, (b) if the overt lexical expressions have same lexical roots, and (c) if the clauses approximately share at least the meaning and truth conditions of the semantically less specific clause alternant. This qualifies as diathesis what has come to be known as the canonical passive, impersonal passive, non-canonical passive, pseudo-passive, anticausative, the dative alternation, and the locative alternation, among others. The focus of this article is on the semantic restrictions governing a clause’s participation in various diathetical alternations across the modern Germanic (standard) languages. Semantic differences between alternating clauses are captured using a sophisticated semantic role account. Grammatical encoding of diathesis is described in a theory-neutral manner using the four-case system of the old Germanic languages as a tertium comparationis and syntactic function notions from descriptive typology. Diatheses are differentiated by the semantic roles that are fore- and backgrounded by means of the syntactic functions they bear. The roles that alternate in grammatical coding are foregrounded in the clause in which they have the higher syntactic function in a syntactic function hierarchy, and they are backgrounded in the clause in which they have the lower syntactic function. In a first set of diatheses, alternations are described in which the proto-agent role is backgrounded and a proto-patient is foregrounded. This set includes a “patient passive” and the “anticausative domain.” In a second set of diatheses, the proto-agent is again backgrounded, but now the proto-recipient is foregrounded. This is illustrated using the “eventive recipient passive.” Completing this pattern, the “locational passive” represents a diathetical pattern in which the proto-agent role is backgrounded once more and the proto-locational role is foregrounded. Other types of diatheses in which the proto-locational is foregrounded and the proto-patient is backgrounded are exemplified by means of the location/possession alternation (dative alternation) and the location/affection alternation (e.g., locative and applicative alternations).

Article

Degree Expressions in Chinese  

Linmin Zhang

Degree expressions in natural language reflect how human cognition performs abstract tasks like taking measurements (i.e., mapping items to degrees on a certain scale) and conducting comparisons between measurements. There is a great variation on how different languages encode notions like degrees and scales and operate comparison, inspiring ongoing theoretical development in degree semantics. This article presents major empirical data on degree expressions in Mandarin Chinese and surveys current research on Chinese-specific phenomena. Compared to well-known English phenomena, Chinese gradable predicates like 高gāo ‘tall, high’ seem rather syntactic-category-fluid, and due to the lack of comparative morphemes, their interpretation can be ambiguous between a comparative use and a positive/measurement interpretation. Typical degree expressions in Chinese, including the positive use, comparatives, equatives, and measurement constructions, demonstrate patterns different from those in English. Moreover, not only adjective-like words such as 高gāo ‘tall, high’, but also property nouns (e.g., 魅力mèi-lì ‘charm’, 钱qián ‘money’) and mental verbs (e.g., 喜欢xǐ-huān ‘like’) have gradable meanings and can be used to form degree expressions. With regard to these empirical phenomena, this article focuses on the following fundamental research questions in the literature: (a) The encoding of comparison: In a language lacking comparative morphemes, how is the distinction established between the positive and the comparative interpretation? (b) Compositional derivation: How are Chinese comparatives distinct from well-studied English clausal comparatives? (c) Ontology of degrees: How do various Chinese degree expressions reveal the underlying ontological assumptions of scales and degrees? Even though many of the research questions are still hotly debated in the existing literature, research on Chinese empirical data already brings profound implications for theoretical development of degree semantics. In particular, this article suggests a new look at variations between languages with versus without overt comparative morphemes (e.g., English -er) and invites more research on the pragmatics involved in cross-linguistic degree expressions.

Article

The Semantics of Chinese Wh-Phrases  

Qianqian Ren and Haihua Pan

In formal semantics, a wh-phrase is traditionally assigned the semantics of an existential quantifier phrase, an abstraction operator, or a set of alternatives. Such semantics per se, however, is not sufficient to account for the behaviors of Chinese wh-phrases. A wh-phrase in Chinese may be used in a variety of contexts and express a variety of meanings. Apart from interrogative meaning, it may also give rise to existential or universal meaning. More specifically, it can be licensed in typical contexts that license negative polarity items like the c-command domain of negation, the antecedent clause of a conditional, and a yes–no question. It can also be licensed in modal contexts, including epistemic modality and deontic modality. Finally, it can produce a universal reading by being quantified by the adverb dōu ‘all’ or forming the so-called bare conditionals/wh-conditionals, which are composed by two clauses containing matched wh-forms without overt connectives. In order to achieve explanatory adequacy, it is necessary to consider whether and how the different functions of wh-phrases can be unified and whether they can be derived from more general principles or mechanisms. To maintain descriptive adequacy, variations in licensing and interpretation possibilities across wh-items and contexts must also be taken into consideration. Another feature of Chinese wh-phrases is that sometimes they seem to extend their scope beyond domains within which they otherwise take scope (e.g., a Chinese wh-phrase may take existential scope within the antecedent of a conditional, though it may also co-vary with another wh-phrase in the consequent of that conditional). In this respect, they behave like indefinites. As some evidence suggests that some cases where they display this feature may in fact involve the interrogative use, it remains to be seen whether the locus of explanation lies in the wh-phrase itself or in the question meaning. There are other big questions to consider: For instance, how do prosody, syntax and semantics interact with one another in licensing and interpreting a Chinese wh-phrase? Do the theoretical devices and mechanisms postulated have psychological reality? There is also much space for empirical research, which hopefully will help settle debates over the grammaticality of certain structures or the availability of certain readings.

Article

Liheci ‘Separable Words’ in Mandarin Chinese  

Kuang Ye and Haihua Pan

Liheci ‘separable words’ is a special phenomenon in Mandarin Chinese, and it refers to an intransitive verb with two or more syllables that allows the insertion of syntactic modifiers or an argument in between the first syllable and the second or the rest of syllables with the help of the nominal modifier marker de. There are two major groups of Liheci: those stored in the lexicon, such as bangmang ‘help’, lifa ‘haircut’, and shenqi ‘anger’, and those derived in syntax through noun-to-verb incorporation, such as chifan ‘eat meal’, leiqiang ‘build wall’, in which fan ‘meal’ and qiang ‘wall’ are incorporated into chi ‘eat’ and lei ‘build’, respectively, to function as temporary verbal compounds. The well-known behavior of Liheci is that it can be separated by nominal modifiers or a syntactic argument. For example, bangmang ‘help’ can be used to form a verb phrase bang Lisi-de mang ‘give Lisi a help’ by inserting Lisi and a nominal modifier marker, de, between bang and mang, with bang being understood as the predicate and Lisi-de mang as the object. Although Lisi appears as a possessor marked by de, it should be understood as the theme object of the compound verb. In similar ways, the syntactic–semantic elements such as agent, theme, adjectives, measure phrases, relative clauses, and the like can all be inserted between the two components of bangmang, deriving verb phrases like (Zhangsan) bang Zhangsan-de mang ‘(Zhangsan) do Zhangsan’s help’, where Zhangsan is the agent; bang-le yi-ci mang ‘help once’, where yi-ci is a measure phrase; and bang bieren bu xiang bang de mang ‘give a help that others don’t want to give’, where bieren bu xiang bang is a relative clause. The same insertions can be found in Liheci formed in syntax. For example, chi liang-ci fan ‘eat two time’s meal’ (eat meals twice), lei san-tian qiang ‘build three day’s wall’ (build walls for three days). There are three syntactic-semantic properties exhibited in verb phrases formed with Liheci: first, possessors being understood as Liheci’s logical argument; second, interdependent relation between the predicate and the complement; and, third, obligatory use of verbal classifiers instead of nominal classifiers. In this article, first, five influential analyses in the literature are reviewed, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. Then, the cognate object approach is discussed. Under this approach, Lihecis are found to be intransitive verbs that are capable of taking nominalized reduplicates of themselves as their cognate objects. After a complementary deletion on the verb and its reduplicate object in the Phonetic Form (PF), all the relevant verb phrases can be well derived, with no true separation involved in the derivation, as all the copies of Liheci in question remain intact all along. After a discussion of the relevant syntactic structures, it is shown that with this syntactic capacity, all participants involved in the events can be successfully accommodated and correctly interpreted. The advantage can be manifested in six aspects, demonstrating that this proposal fares much better than other approaches.

Article

Chinese Dou Quantification  

Yuli Feng and Haihua Pan

Dou has been seen as a typical example of universal quantification and the point of departure in the formal study of quantification in Chinese. The constraints on dou’s quantificational structure, dou’s diverse uses, and the compatibility between dou and other quantificational expressions have further promoted the refinement of the theory of quantification and sparked debate over the semantic nature of dou. The universal quantificational approach holds that dou is a universal quantifier and explains its diverse uses as the effects produced by quantification on different sorts of entities and different ways of quantificational mapping. However, non-quantificational approaches, integrating the insights of degree semantics and focus semantics, take the scalar use as dou’s core semantics. The quantificational approach to dou can account for its meaning of exclusiveness and the interpretational differences engendered by dou when it associates with a wh-indeterminate to its left or to its right, whereas non-quantificational approaches cannot determine the interpretational differences caused by rightward and leftward association and cannot explain the exclusive use of dou. Despite the differences, the various approaches to dou, quantificational or non-quantificational, have far-reaching theoretical significance for understanding the mechanism of quantification in natural language.

Article

Focus and Focus Structures in the Romance Languages  

Silvio Cruschina

Focus is key to understanding processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in the Romance languages. Since, prosodically, it must be the most prominent constituent in the sentence, focus associates with the nuclear pitch accent, which may be shifted from its default rightmost position when the syntactic position of the focus also changes. The application of specific syntactic operations depends both on the size and on the subtype of focus, although not always unambiguously. Subject inversion characterizes focus structures where the domain of focus covers either the whole sentence (broad-focus) or a single constituent (narrow-focus). Presentational constructions distinctively mark broad focus, avoiding potential ambiguity with an SVO structure where the predicate is the focus and the subject is interpreted as topic. In narrow-focus structures, the focus constituent typically occurs sentence-final (postverbal focalization), but it may also be fronted (focus fronting), depending on the specific interpretation associated with the focus. Semantically, focus indicates the presence of alternatives, and the different interpretations arise from the way the set of alternatives is pragmatically exploited, giving rise to a contextually open set (information focus), to contrast or correction (contrastive or corrective focus), or to surprise or unexpectedness (mirative focus). Whether a subtype of focus may undergo fronting in a Romance language is subject to variation. In most varieties it is indeed possible with contrastive or corrective focus, but it has been shown that focus fronting is also acceptable with noncontrastive focus in several languages, especially with mirative focus. Finally, certain focus-sensitive operators or particles directly interact with the narrow-focus constituent of the sentence and their association with focus has semantic effects on the interpretation of the sentence.

Article

Genericity  

Ariel Cohen

Generics are sentences such as Birds fly, which express generalizations. They are prevalent in speech, and as far as is known, no human language lacks generics. Yet, it is very far from clear what they mean. After all, not all birds fly—penguins don’t! There are two general views about the meaning of generics in the literature, and each view encompasses many specific theories. According to the inductivist view, a generic states that a sufficient number of individuals satisfy a certain property—in the example above, it says that sufficiently many birds fly. This view faces the complicated problem of spelling out exactly how many is “sufficiently many” in a way that correctly captures the intuitive truth conditions of generics. An alternative, the rules and regulations view, despairs from this project and proposes instead that generics directly express rules in the world. Rules are taken to be abstract objects, which are not related to the properties of specific individuals. This view faces the difficult problem of explaining how people come to know of such rules when judging the truth of falsity of generics, and accounting for the strong intuition that a sentence such as Birds fly talks about birds, not abstract objects. What seems to be beyond dispute is that generics, even if they do not express rules, are lawlike: they state non-accidental generalizations. Many scholars have taken this fact to indicate that generics are parametric on possible worlds: they refer to worlds other than the actual world. This, again, raises the problem of how people come to know about what happens in these other worlds. However, a rigorous application of standard tests for intensionality shows that generics are not, in fact, parametric on possible worlds, but only on time. This unusual property may explain much of the mystery surrounding generics. Another mysterious property of generics is that although there is no language without them, there is no linguistic construction that is devoted to the expression of genericity. Rather, generics can be expressed in a variety of ways, each of which can also express nongenerics. Yet, each manifestation of generics differs subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) in its meaning from the others. Even when these and other puzzles of genericity are solved, one mystery would remain: Why are generics, which are so easy to produce and understand in conversation, so difficult to analyze?

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

Numerical Expressions in Chinese: Syntax and Semantics  

Chuansheng He and Min Zhang

Numerical expressions are linguistic forms related to numbers or quantities, which directly reflect the relationship between linguistic symbols and mathematical cognition. Featuring some unique properties, numeral systems are somewhat distinguished from other language subsystems. For instance, numerals can appear in various grammatical positions, including adjective positions, determiner positions, and argument positions. Thus, linguistic research on numeral systems, especially the research on the syntax and semantics of numerical expressions, has been a popular and recurrent topic. For the syntax of complex numerals, two analyses have been proposed in the literature. The traditional constituency analysis maintains that complex numerals are phrasal constituents, which has been widely accepted and defended as a null hypothesis. The nonconstituency analysis, by contrast, claims that a complex numeral projects a complementative structure in which a numeral is a nominal head selecting a lexical noun or a numeral-noun combination as its complement. As a consequence, additive numerals are transformed from full NP coordination. Whether numerals denote numbers or sets has aroused a long-running debate. The number-denoting view assumes that numerals refer to numbers, which are abstract objects, grammatically equivalent to nouns. The primary issue with this analysis comes from the introduction of a new entity, numbers, into the model of ontology. The set-denoting view argues that numerals refer to sets, which are equivalent to adjectives or quantifiers in grammar. One main difficulty of this view is how to account for numerals in arithmetic sentences.