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Children’s Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge  

Rosalind Thornton

Children’s acquisition of language is an amazing feat. Children master the syntax, the sentence structure of their language, through exposure and interaction with caregivers and others but, notably, with no formal tuition. How children come to be in command of the syntax of their language has been a topic of vigorous debate since Chomsky argued against Skinner’s claim that language is ‘verbal behavior.’ Chomsky argued that knowledge of language cannot be learned through experience alone but is guided by a genetic component. This language component, known as ‘Universal Grammar,’ is composed of abstract linguistic knowledge and a computational system that is special to language. The computational mechanisms of Universal Grammar give even young children the capacity to form hierarchical syntactic representations for the sentences they hear and produce. The abstract knowledge of language guides children’s hypotheses as they interact with the language input in their environment, ensuring they progress toward the adult grammar. An alternative school of thought denies the existence of a dedicated language component, arguing that knowledge of syntax is learned entirely through interactions with speakers of the language. Such ‘usage-based’ linguistic theories assume that language learning employs the same learning mechanisms that are used by other cognitive systems. Usage-based accounts of language development view children’s earliest productions as rote-learned phrases that lack internal structure. Knowledge of linguistic structure emerges gradually and in a piecemeal fashion, with frequency playing a large role in the order of emergence for different syntactic structures.


Infinitival Clauses in the Romance Languages  

Guido Mensching

“Infinitival clauses” are constructions with a clausal status whose predicate is an infinitive. Romance infinitive clauses are mostly dependent clauses and can be divided into the following types: argumental infinitival clauses (such as subject and object clauses, the latter also including indirect interrogatives), predicative infinitival clauses, infinitival adjunct clauses, infinitival relative clauses, and nominalized infinitive clauses (with a determiner). More rarely, they appear as independent (main) clauses (root infinitival clauses) of different types, which usually have a marked character. Whereas infinitival adjunct clauses are generally preceded by prepositions, which can be argued to be outside the infinitival clause proper (i.e., the clause is part of a prepositional phrase), Romance argumental infinitive clauses are often introduced by complementizers that are diachronically derived from prepositions, mostly de/di and a/à. In most Romance languages, the infinitive itself is morphologically marked by an ending containing the morpheme {r} but lacks tense and agreement morphemes. However, some Romance languages have developed an infinitive that can be inflected for subject agreement (which is found in Portuguese, Galician, and Sardinian and also attested in Old Neapolitan). Romance languages share the property of English and other languages to leave the subject of infinitive clauses unexpressed (subject/object control, arbitrary control, and optional control) and also have raising and accusative-and-infinitive constructions. A special property of many Romance languages is the possibility of overtly expressing a nominative subject in infinitival clauses, mostly in postverbal position. The tense of the infinitive clause is usually interpreted as simultaneous or anterior to that of the matrix clause, but some matrix predicates and infinitive constructions trigger a posteriority/future reading. In addition, some Romance infinitive clauses are susceptible to constraints concerning aspect and modality.


Pronominal and Expletive Subjects in Germanic  

Gunther De Vogelaer

The syntax ofGermanic subject pronouns is only minimally different from nominal subjects. Germanic has to a large extent dispensed with null subjects, leading to a tendency to also use pronouns to refer to highly accessible subjects and the frequent use of expletive subjects, for instance with weather verbs or in other impersonal constructions. Correspondingly, all Germanic languages at least show some tendency to formally reduce subject pronouns in unstressed positions, and some languages have encoded a more systematic distinction between strong and weak forms, with weak forms developing proper formal and distributional properties. Additional differences between Germanic languages regarding subject pronouns concern the emergence and use of honorifics and the degree to which pronominal reference still reflects nouns’ grammatical gender rather than being replaced with a semantic system encoding biological gender and individuation. Regards expletives, most derive from neuter pronouns es or deictic adverbs der . The main difference within Germanic with respect to their use is whether they function as first-position placeholders (e.g., Icelandic) vis-à-vis languages in which they are generally used in impersonal constructions, also in a post-verbal position (e.g., Dutch). Both the constraints on referential null subjects and the use of expletives in impersonal constructions are typologically rare and have been related to other aspects of Germanic grammar, such as the verb-second property and widespread leveling in the verbal agreement paradigm. Research has also addressed the relationship between subject pronouns and their antecedent, as well as the semantic and pragmatic conditions under which weak pronouns and expletives are used.


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.


Anaphora in Dravidian  

K. A. Jayaseelan

The Dravidian languages have a long-distance reflexive anaphor taan . (It is taan in Tamil and Malayalam, taanu in Kannada and tanu in Telugu.) As is the case with other long-distance anaphors, it is subject-oriented; it is also [+human] and third person. Interestingly, it is infelicitous if bound within the minimal clause when it is an argument of the verb. (That is, it seems to obey Principle B of the binding theory.) Although it is subject-oriented in the normal case, it can be bound by a non-subject if the verb is a “psych predicate,” that is, a predicate that denotes a feeling; in this case, it can be bound by the experiencer of the feeling. Again, in a discourse that depicts the thoughts, feelings, or point of view of a protagonist—the so-called “logophoric contexts”—it can be coreferential with the protagonist even if the latter is mentioned only in the preceding discourse (not within the sentence). These latter facts suggest that the anaphor is in fact coindexed with the perspective of the clause (rather than with the subject per se). In cases where this anaphor needs to be coindexed with the minimal subject (to express a meaning like ‘John loves himself’), the Dravidian languages exhibit two strategies to circumvent the Principle B effect. Malayalam adds an emphasis marker tanne to the anaphor; taan tanne can corefer with the minimal subject. This strategy parallels the strategy of European languages and East Asian languages (cf. Scandinavian seg selv). The three other major Dravidian languages—Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada—use a verbal reflexive: they add a light verb koL- (lit. ‘take’) to the verbal complex, which has the effect of reflexivizing the transitive predicate. (It either makes the verb intransitive or gives it a self-benefactive meaning.) The Dravidian languages also have reciprocal and distributive anaphors. These have bipartite structures. An example of a Malayalam reciprocal anaphor is oral … matte aaL (‘one person … other person’). The distributive anaphor in Malayalam has the form awar-awar (‘they-they’); it is a reduplicated pronoun. The reciprocals and distributives are strict anaphors in the sense that they apparently obey Principle A; they must be bound in the domain of the minimal subject. They are not subject-oriented. A noteworthy fact about the pronominal system of Dravidian is that the third person pronouns come in proximal-distal pairs, the proximal pronoun being used to refer to something nearby and the distal pronoun being used elsewhere.


Passive Periphrases in the Romance Languages  

Adam Ledgeway

Romance periphrastic passives are valency-reducing constructions, involving detransitivization of the clause which is variously manifested in: (a) the defocusing of the Agent through its suppression or demotion to an oblique adjunct; (b) the topicalization and subjectization of an affected non-Agent; and (c) the stativization of the predicate through the use of dedicated verb forms consisting of an auxiliary and nonfinite verb form (viz., participle) which mark the perfective-resultative aspect of the denoted event. Standard and nonstandard Romance varieties present a wealth of periphrastic passive constructions which exhibit a great deal of microvariation, both within individual varieties and across larger areal groupings, in the various formal dimensions of use, meaning, formation, and distribution of the periphrastic passive. These parameters of varation include, among other things, some quite remarkable degrees of diachronic, diatopic, diamesic, and diastratic variation in the distribution and frequency of individual passive periphrases; the choice of passive auxiliary which, in accordance with various syntactic, semantic, and lexical factors, can variously surface as be, become, stay, have, come, go, see, make, remain/stay, want; the distribution of the defocused Agent, especially in relation to a general preference for the so-called short passive, and variation, both diachronic and synchronic, in the formal marking of the defocused Agent both within and across individual Romance varieties; the range and availability of different arguments to undergo subjectization (Theme/Patient > Recipient/Benefactive); the availability and formal properties of the impersonal-passive which, to varying degrees, may enter into competition with a number of the available passive periphrases; the formal licensing conditions operative on participle agreement, in a number of cases linked to the choice of passive auxiliary and the semantic role of the subjectized argument; and the distribution and availability of formal distinctions in the participle to mark the active–passive opposition.


Topicalization in the Romance Languages  

Silvio Cruschina

Topic and topicalization are key notions to understand processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in Romance. More specifically, topicalization refers to the syntactic mechanisms and constructions available in a language to mark an expression as the topic of the sentence. Despite the lack of a uniform definition of topic, often based on the notions of aboutness or givenness, significant advances have been made in Romance linguistics since the 1990s, yielding a better understanding of the topicalization constructions, their properties, and their grammatical correlates. Prosodically, topics are generally described as being contained in independent intonational phrases. The syntactic and pragmatic characteristics of a specific topicalization construction, by contrast, depend both on the form of resumption of the dislocated topic within the clause and on the types of topic (aboutness, given, and contrastive topics). We can thus distinguish between hanging topic (left dislocation) (HTLD) and clitic left-dislocation (ClLD) for sentence-initial topics, and clitic right-dislocation (ClRD) for sentence-final dislocated constituents. These topicalization constructions are available in most Romance languages, although variation may affect the type and the obligatory presence of the resumptive element. Scholars working on topic and topicalization in the Romance languages have also addressed controversial issues such as the relation between topics and subjects, both grammatical (nominative) subjects and ‘oblique’ subjects such as dative experiencers and locative expressions. Moreover, topicalization has been discussed for medieval Romance, in conjunction with its alleged V2 syntactic status. Some topicalization constructions such as subject inversion, especially in the non-null subject Romance languages, and Resumptive Preposing may indeed be viewed as potential residues of medieval V2 property in contemporary Romance.


Syntactic Typology  

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 ).


Case Markers in Indo-Aryan  

Miriam Butt

Indo-Aryan languages have the longest documented historical record, with the earliest attested texts going back to 1900 bce. Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic, Sanskrit) had an inflectional case-marking system where nominatives functioned as subjects. Objects could be realized via several different case markers (depending on semantic and structural factors), but not the nominative. This inflectional system was lost over the course of several centuries during Middle Indo-Aryan, resulting in just a nominative–oblique inflectional distinction. The New Indo-Aryan languages innovated case markers and developed new case-marking systems. Like in Old Indo-Aryan, case is systematically used to express semantic differences via differential object marking constructions. However, unlike in Old Indo-Aryan, many of the New Indo-Aryan languages are ergative and all allow for non-nominative subjects, most prominently for experiencer subjects. Objects, on the other hand, can now also be unmarked (nominative), usually participating in differential object marking. The case-marking patterns within New Indo-Aryan and across time have given rise to a number of debates and analyses. The most prominent of these include issues of case alignment and language change, the distribution of ergative vs. accusative vs. nominative case, and discussions of markedness and differential case marking.


Southern Gallo-Romance: Occitan and Gascon  

Andres M. Kristol

Occitan, a language of high medieval literary culture, historically occupies the southern third of France. Today it is dialectalized and highly endangered, like all the regional languages of France. Its main linguistic regions are Languedocien, Provençal, Limousin, Auvergnat, Vivaro-dauphinois (Alpine Provençal) and, linguistically on the fringes of the domain, Gascon. Despite its dialectalization, its typological unity and the profound difference that separates it from Northern Galloroman (Oïl dialects, Francoprovençal) and Gallo-Italian remain clearly perceptible. Its history is characterised by several ruptures (the Crusade against the Albigensians, the French Revolution) and several attempts at "rebirth" (the Baroque period, the Felibrige movement in the second half of the 19th century, the Occitanist movement of the 20th century). Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the Occitan koinè, a literary and administrative language integrating the main dialectal characteristics of all regions, was lost and replaced by makeshift regional spellings based on the French spelling. The modern Occitanist orthography tries to overcome these divisions by coming as close as possible to the medieval, "classical" written tradition, while respecting the main regional characteristics. Being a bridge language between northern Galloroman (Oïl varieties and Francoprovençal), Italy and Iberoromania, Occitan is a relatively conservative language in terms of its phonetic evolution from the popular spoken Latin of western Romania, its morphology and syntax (absence of subject clitics in the verbal system, conservation of a fully functional simple past tense). Only Gascon, which was already considered a specific language in the Middle Ages, presents particular structures that make it unique among Romance languages (development of a system of enunciative particles).