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Review of  Linguistic Theory and South Asian Languages

Reviewer: Michael W Morgan
Book Title: Linguistic Theory and South Asian Languages
Book Author: Josef Bayer Tanmoy Bhattacharya M.T. Hany Babu
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Language Family(ies): Indo-Aryan
Issue Number: 19.748

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EDITORS: Bayer, Josef; Bhattacharya, Tanmoy; Hany Babu, M.T.
TITLE: Linguistic Theory and South Asian Languages
SUBTITLE: Essays in honour of K. A. Jayaseelan
SERIES: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 102
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2007

Michael W Morgan, Managing Director, Ishara Foundation, Bombay/Mumbai, India

Nb: due to font limitations, I transcribe hook-tailed n (velar nasal) as ng as
schwa as x. Example numbers are as in each individual chapter, and are thus not

This book is a collection of articles written and presented as a festschrift in
honor of K.A. Jayaseelan, one of the leading figures in the introduction,
promulgation and development of generative linguistics in India. Although the
editors clearly see it as something more (see the critical evaluation below), it
is at least a documentation of the range of activities of linguists working on
languages of the Indian subcontinent within the generative (Principles and
Parameters) tradition. Thus, it will primarily appeal to those interested in how
generative theory has been applied to South Asian languages, and in turn how
work on South Asian languages can inform generative theory. As with generative
linguistic theory in general, articles of this book deal mostly with syntax,
though there are also articles dealing with phonology. To theoretical linguists
working within non-generative frameworks, this book may be of lesser interest (a
topic I will also address in the critical evaluation below).

The book is organized into six sections, with the articles in each section
linked by a shared topic. In addition, the book starts with an introduction by
the editors which presents a brief biography of K.A. Jayaseelan, focusing
particularly on his role in promoting and spreading generative linguistic work
within South Asia, and then gives a brief summary of each of the papers.

The next section contains four papers relating to clause structure. The first is
''What is 'Argument Sharing': A Case Study on Argument Sharing under
VP-Serialization in Oriya'' by Dorothee Beermann, Kalyanamalini Sahoo and Lars
Hellan. As the title indicates, it deals with sentences such as:

(1) kaali raatire mun maachha-Te kiNi keLaai bhaaji khaali
yesterday night-PP I fish-a buy clean fry eat-PAST-1st-sg
'Last night, having bought, cleaned and fried a fish, I ate it.'

Here the direct object maachha-Te 'a fish' is shared by the three verbs, only
the last of which is inflected. The authors propose that this should be treated
as a case of verb-serialization rather than coordination, and that argument
sharing can in fact be understood in three independent senses.

This paper is followed by a paper by Cedrix Boeckx entitled ''Pseudoclefts: a
Fully Derivational Account'', which deals with English sentences of the type
''What John is is very tall''.

The third paper in this section is ''The Cleft Question and the Question of
Cleft'' by P. Madhavan. It deals with Malayalam sentences of a similar type to
those English sentences dealt with by Boeckx, such as:

(2) amma kuTTiye aaNx nuLLiyatx
mother-nom child-acc is pinch-past
'It is the child that the mother pinched.'

Although marked 'past' by the author in this example, in fact it is argued that
-atx is aspect not tense, and thus the cleft clause is non-finite. If so
analyzed, the cleft construction can be seen as simply raising of an element to
'cleft focus'.

Last in this section is K. Srikumar's ''Clausal Pied-Piping and Subjacency''. It
also deals with Malayalam clause structure, namely long distance question word
dependencies, such as in the sentences:

(8a) aar-e aaNA raaman t1 kaNTu ennA ningngaL t1 PaRanyny-atA
who-acc FOC R. saw COMP you said-nomnr.

(8c) raaman t1 kaNTu ennA ningngaL t1 paRanyny-atA aar-e aaNA
R. saw COMP you said-nomnr. who-acc FOC

The author proposes ''pied-piping of finite clausal complements to obtain wide
scope for question-words'' (p. 66). As someone coming from outside the generative
model, this chapter was perhaps the hardest to ''enjoy '' ( one case of which I
return to in the critical evaluation below).

The third section contains a single paper, Richard S. Kayne's ''On the Syntax of
Quantity in English''. It deals with questions of the syntax of 'many ' and 'few
' (etc) in English, and the author proposes that these are dealt with as
''adjectival modifiers of an unpronounced noun NUMBER'' (p. 95).

The following section is devoted to issues of Binding, and contains three
papers. First is ''Coreference Violations: 'Beyond Principle B''' by Jaqueline Gu
ron. It discusses inverse copular sentences of the type ''My best friend is John''
and problems of coreference. She adopts Jayaseelan's proposal that LF movement
can be applied to solve these problems

Next in this section comes Eric Reuland's ''Perspectives on Binding'', which
argues that for English the licensing of reflexivity and the obligatoriness of
(local) boundedness should be distinguished. This approach is based on facts
presented by Jayaseelan for Malayalam, although the paper itself deals with
English (and (West) Frisian).

The final paper in this section is by Yogendra P. Yadava. This paper, entitled
''Raising from a Tensed Clause and Linguistic Theory: Evidence from Maithili'',
deals with Subject-to-Subject rasing in Maithili, found in sentence pairs such
as the following (with brackets, bracketing labels and empty elements omitted):

(1)a. lagait aich je ahãã aai ghar nahi jaa sakab
seems that you today home not go can

(1)b. ahãã lagait chi je aai ghar nahi jaa sakab
'You seem not to be able to go home today.'

Here the subject of the internal clause is raised to the matrix clause,
replacing in this case an ''empty'' subject, with concommitent verb agreement.
Violations of standard Case theory and Binding principle (A) are dealt with by
proposed redefinition of ''governing category'' and by modifications specific to

Next follows a section on complementizers and complementation. The first paper
in this section is ''The Ubiquitous Complementizer'' by Probal Dasgupta. It deals
with the fact that complement and adjunct clauses in Bangla often exhibit
internal complementizers. Specifically Dasgupta deals with the ''particle'' bole
'that (with verbs of saying, hearing, etc); because' which is always
clause-final, and quite possibly calqued from Dravidian; and the standard
Indo-European conjunctive particle (Prt) pair '-je ... SeTa' 'that (with verbs
of knowing, understanding, etc)' where the -je is always postclitic to some
element within the internal clause. Depending on the nature of the complement
clause, the -je may be mobile but obligatory (as in (10)a-c), optional (as in
(20-21)), or obligatorily absent (as in (26)):

(10)a-c. ajke -{je} briSTi-{je} porRbe-{je}, amra keu SeTa bujhte pari ni
today-{Prt} rain-{Prt} will-fall-{Prt} we anyone that understand did not
'That it would rain today, none of us had understood.'
(Dasgupta's translation)

(20-21) ora dilip-(je) prodipke khun korbe jante perechilo
they Dilip-(Prt) Prodip-Obj kill will to-know had-come

(26) ora dilip khun korbe prodipke SeTa jante perechilo
they Dilip kill will Prodip-Obj that to-know had-come
'They had come to know that Filip would kill Prodip.'

These differences, Dasgupta argues, depend on the nature of the complement clause.

Next comes a paper by Alice Davison entitled ''Word order, Parameters, and the
Extended COMP Projection''. It is the chapter which covers the most ''ground'',
treating no fewer than 15 Indic languages (depending on how you count), and
extending south beyond the borders of India into Sri Lanka (for Sinhalese) as
well as north into Nepal (Nepali). It deals with the position of COMP in
embedded clauses, correlations of this position with the yes/no question marker,
and correlation of conjunctions and markers of subordinates.

The third paper in the section is by Madhumita Barbora entitled ''The Particle ne
in direct yes-no Questions''. Although it deals mainly with Assamese yes/no
question particle ne, it also brings in comparisons with yes/no particles in
Bangla and Oriya, and the disjunctive and yes/no question particle -oo in
Kannada, and concludes that Assamese ne is in fact a disjunctive particle with
inherent negative features.

The final section is on phonology, and contains three papers: 1)
''Underspecification and the Phonology of *NC-Effects in Malayalam'' by Shyamal
Das, 2) ''The Disyllabic Word Minimum: variations on a Theme in Bangla, Punjabi
and Tamil'' by K.G. Vijayakrishnan, and 3) ''Writing Systems and Phonological
Awareness'' by Pingali Sailaja. The first two of these apply Optimality Theory;
the first to the question as to why Malayalam uses post-nasal voicing (the
preferred strategy) and to a less extent nasal gemination to avoid post-nasal
voiceless consonants, the second to show the different ways in which Punjabi,
Bangla and Tamil satisfy (to varying degrees) the requirement that a disyllabic
trochee is the minimal word.

The final paper in the book shows the results of experiments with Telegu-English
bilinguals in phoneme and syllable manipulation in the two languages, showing
that knowledge of a script (even Telegu script when manipulating English words)
may help literates perform better on these tasks. Also, interestingly, although
the test-takers are presumably Telegu-dominant speakers, they performed
generally better in manipulating English than Telegu. Equally surprising is
that, while Telegu script is described as semi-syllabic, syllable manipulation
was generally easier for the test-takers in English.

As hopefully can be seen from the brief summary of contents, papers vary
considerably. The one or two papers that claim to be theory-neutral perhaps are
only neutral within the range of generative theory. Papers also vary
considerably in their balance between focus on theory (which are therefore quite
theory-non-neutral) and focus on language - ranging perhaps from a ratio of
40:60 to one of 90:10. Those at the ''upper'' end weighted towards theory will no
doubt be of particular interest to fellow generativists, but perhaps less
enthusiastically greeted by non-generativists. Those at the ''lower'' end will be
of interest to generativists and non-generativists alike.

I have effectively three criticisms of this book. All can be seen as
manifestation of my disappointment that in two important ways the papers
included by the editor do not match what I understand by the title: _Linguistic
Theory and South Asian Languages_.

First, the editors' opening sentence of their introduction equates linguistic
theory with generative theory: ''Linguistic theory in the sense of generative
grammar and phonological theory has not been in close touch with the languages
of South Asia until rather late.'' This equation is somewhat offensive, not to
mention ironic - surely the editors of this volume are aware that Panini was
doing linguistic theorizing long before generative grammar was invented
(although some have tried to adopt him into the tradition, Panini was not a

Second, included among the papers are four (namely those by Cedric Boecks, by
Richard S. Kayne, by Jaqueline Gu ron and by Eric Reuland) which deal with
English. While I have no question that English is a South Asian language, none
of these four papers deals with Indian (or any other variety of South Asian)
English. While they may belong in a Festschrift to Professor Jayaseelan, they do
not belong in a volume with this title. I grant that two of these four,
Reuland's and Gu ron's, although focused on English, at least mention and
discuss briefly contributions of Professor Jayasaleen to the Binding theory
based on Malayalam. Neither of the other two makes any such concession to the
title of this volume.

Third, while the second half of the title clearly says ''and South Asian
Languages'', all the South Asian languages treated in this book (with two minor
exceptions) are in fact languages of India. Although some might point out that a
sizeable minority of Mathili speakers live in the southeast of Nepal along the
Nepal-India border, it is primarily a language of India. Alice Davison's paper,
a comparative paper, includes Sinhala/Singhalese, spoken in Sri Lanka.
Similarly, Punjabi, Kashmiri (dealt with in Davison's paper) and Bangla/Bengali
(dealt with in Davison's paper, and also in Dasgupta and Barbora's papers) are
languages spoken across borders - with Pakistan (the first two) and Bangladesh
(the last one). So, while technically this volume has papers dealing with the
languages of all the main South Asian countries, mostly the languages treated,
even if spoken also outside of India, are languages of India. In addition, even
if we grant that inclusion of the above-mentioned languages give the book a
South Asian and not simply Indian scope, my biggest disappointment is that all
the languages dealt with (non-South Asian English aside) come from either the
Indic or the Dravidian language families. While these are indeed the largest
language families in South Asia, and the ones that come first to most people's
minds, I would have liked to see something on the other ''minority'' South Asian
language families: Austro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetic, the odd isolate or unclassified
language, and, of course the sign language of South Asia. Perhaps they were not
dealt with because generative theorizing has not crossed those borders yet either.

So, finally, let me return to the question as to whether theoretical linguists
working outside the generative tradition might still benefit from this book. My
answer is a qualified yes. The qualifications are: 1) You must be able to
tolerate (or at least don't mind skipping over) at times rather opaque
generative theory-specific argumentations, including syntactic trees with 15
levels of nodes for a sentence with more empty (traces, pros and the like) nodes
than (language) filled termini, then you will be able to handle this book. (The
''worst'' case is K. Srikumar's Malayalam example found on p. 59.) Similarly you
must be tolerant of starred sentences that seem perfectly allowable. I cannot
judge the stars for Malayalam sentences, of which I am not a speaker of any type
let alone native, but Jaqueline Gu ron's (75b.) ''*Four is two and two.'' and
(75c.) ''*Two and two is easy.'' seem perfectly natural to me. But then, perhaps I
have been in South Asia too long. Fortunately, at least two-thirds of the papers
are actually on South Asian Languages, and half of these papers are, if not
theory neutral, at least largely accessible to those working outside the theory
with only a minimum of effort. 2) You are looking for examples from Indic or
Dravidian languages that might throw light on syntactic (and in the last three
papers, phonological) issues which are potentially important for all linguistic
theories, and are ready to run them through your own (or someone else's)
non-generativist linguistic theory. In that case, this volume has enough sample
sentences to keep you happy and busy: a rough count shows that the book as a
whole includes (excluding starred non-sentences, and ignoring non-South Asian
languages) examples from: Assamese (45), Bangla/Bengali (55), Gujarati (5),
Hindi-Urdu (5), Kannada (7), Kashmiri (6), Maithili (22), Marathi (7), Nepali
(3), Malayalam (71), Oriya (25), Punjabi (3), and Sinhala (Singhalese) (6).
(Numbers in parentheses are the approximate number of sentence examples for each

Mike Morgan was trained as a Slavicist and Indo-Europeanist, and has always been
a comparative linguist interested in issues historical, areal and typological.
For the past fifteen years he has been involved in sign linguistics. At present
he is taking a (temporary) leave from academia, and is managing director of
Ishara Foundation in Bombay/Mumbai, India, an educational NPO dedicated to
bilingual literacy (through Indian Sign Language and written English) and the
development of a university-level degree program for the Deaf in India (and
perhaps eventually beyond). In connection with these duties, he continues to be
active in comparative sign language research.