Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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EDITORS: Dianne Jonas, John Whitman, Andrew Garrett TITLE: Grammatical Change SUBTITLE: Origins, Nature, Outcomes PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2012
George Walkden, Department of Linguistics & English Language, University of Manchester
SUMMARY This volume has its origins in the Eighth Diachronic Generative Syntax (DiGS) conference, at Yale in 2004. The seventeen papers within showcase a variety of languages and perspectives.
The first four chapters all deal with the vexed question of the relationship between one of the founding assumptions of diachronic generative syntax - the denial of independent diachronic principles - and apparent directionalities of change in the historical record. Paul Kiparsky’s opener is characteristically ambitious. The paper seeks to restore a version of the definition of “grammaticalization” proposed by its coiner, Meillet (1912), in place of the definitions familiar from modern work on the topic; Kiparsky also defends a version of unidirectionality. The notions of grammaticalization and analogy are put to work to explain a wide variety of changes relating to Finno-Ugric case systems. Kiparsky is sceptical about the explanatory force of reanalysis - a theme picked up by Andrew Garrett’s chapter, which is a blistering assault on the perceived reanalocentricity of modern historical syntax. Garrett takes issue with the textbook account of the emergence of _for_ NP _to_ VP infinitivals, according to which this pattern arose through reanalysis of the object of the preposition as an infinitival subject; instead he suggests that the source construction was the simple NP to VP infinitival pattern, with _for_ being borrowed from the purposive _for to_ VP construction by analogy.
The following chapter, by Batllori & Roca, aims to characterize the synchronic and diachronic variation across Ibero-Romance in the alternation between ser and estar. This is done by means of a careful formal analysis of the syntax and semantics of the relevant constructions, supported by much data, and a proposed grammaticalization trajectory consistent with the principles proposed by Roberts & Roussou (2003) and van Gelderen (2004). David Willis’s chapter on Jespersen’s Cycle in Welsh rounds off this section. Notable here is the substantial discussion of stage 2 of the cycle, arguing that the new negator in Welsh, ddim, passes through a stage of being a negative polarity item before being reanalysed as a pure SpecNegP element. The chapter also contains valuable discussion of the lexical approach to syntactic variation in relation to acquisition and change.
Section 2 is devoted to the nominal domain, an area which has not been as extensively explored in diachronic generative syntax as the clausal/verbal domain but which is well-represented here. Bergeton & Pancheva address the development of English reflexives, arguing against existing analyses in favour of one in which a new phonologically null reflexive emerged to take over from the personal pronouns. Pronoun + _self_, in the meantime, emerged not as a reflexive but as an intensifier, and only begins to be grammaticalized as a reflexive in the Modern English period. Gertjan Postma’s chapter continues the reflexive theme, with a focus on the innovation of the reflexive zich in eastern Dutch dialects. His thesis is that internally-driven change created a gap in the linguistic system which needed to be filled, with dialects of German serving merely as the source from which zich was co-opted. Quantitative data is drawn from a new diachronic corpus of 15th-century eastern Dutch.
With the next two papers we move from reflexives to Balkan definite articles. Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov discuss the rise of the article in Bulgarian.They present a range of diagnostics for article status which they argue show that in Old Bulgarian the demonstrative had already been partially grammaticalized as a definite article. Cristina Guardiano’s chapter deals with changes in the history of articles in Greek, focusing mainly on the apparent optionally of occurrence of the definite article in Ancient Greek. Her conclusion is that a null expletive is possible in Ancient Greek, and that this is linked to the fact that +/-count has not yet been grammaticalized at this stage. Rounding off the section on nominals is Paola Crisma’s chapter on genitives in the history of English. Crisma shows that the distribution of genitives in Old English, though on the surface exhibiting wide variation, can be reduced to a few core patterns with semantic and structural differences between them, and explores some of the consequences of the loss of postnominal genitives.
The following five papers are on the clausal domain. Eric Haeberli & Susan Pintzuk’s chapter is a detailed quantitative study of verb clusters in Old English, showing that this stage of the language conforms to generalizations made about verb clusters on the basis of modern West Germanic, and that the relevant structural properties do not change significantly over the Old English period. The chapter by van Kemenade & Milićev addresses subject positions in early English; they argue that assuming the adverbs tha and thonne to occupy fixed positions in subordinate clauses, serving as information-structural partitions, sheds light on the distribution of subjects. To finish up the English-fest we have Brady Clarkfs paper, which also addresses the question of subject positions in the history of English but from a radically different theoretical perspective. Clark explores the application of Stochastic Optimality Theory to diachronic syntax, providing an interesting challenge to standard categorical approaches to variation and change.
Ana Maria Martins examines the percolation of Portuguese inflected infinitives into ECM environments, suggesting that independent clauses containing an inflected infinitive could be reanalysed by acquirers as gapped embedded clauses when conjoined to and following a clause containing an ECM verb. This configuration also paved the way for embedded negation in non-finite structures. John Sundquist’s chapter, meanwhile, looks at negative movement in Norwegian, a relic of a once more widely productive OV pattern. He analyses its retention in terms of Sobin’s (1997) Virus Theory, as the result of a process operating outside the core grammar for sociolinguistic reasons.
With the final section we ‘zoom out’ from exclusively European languages to Uto-Aztecan and Austronesian, to consider issues of morphosyntactic typology. The thesis of Jason Haugen’s chapter is that a decomposition of Baker’s (2001) Polysynthesis Parameter is needed. He supports this with evidence from a variety of languages; however, the main focus of the chapter is on the history of Nahuatl. Haugen outlines a scenario in which object polysynthesis was grammaticalized first, followed by subject polysynthesis, with noun incorporation a separate parameter. Last but not least is Edith Aldridge’s paper on alignment change in Austronesian languages. She puts forth an analysis in which absolutive case is valued by T in intransitives and v in transitives, and outlines a theory of the change from ergative to accusative in which the decisive step is the reanalysis of the antipassive as transitive.
EVALUATION There is no doubt that this long-awaited volume will be an invaluable resource for historical syntacticians. Beyond that, however, the first part of the volume in particular serves as a great introduction to, and manifesto for, the “DiGS approach” to historical syntax. The introduction lays out three principles - an emphasis on rigorous synchronic description, an emphasis on reliable and well-understood data, and scepticism towards independent diachronic processes - that are fundamental to this approach. Historical linguists dissatisfied with the reification of diachronic grammars and explanatory handwaving still occasionally found elsewhere in the literature would do well to turn to this book.
Another great strength of this volume, and indicative of the depth that the field is now reaching, is the incorporation and formalization of semantic, pragmatic and information-structural factors in some accounts (e.g. Batllori & Roca, Bergeton & Pancheva, van Kemenade & Miliæev, Sundquist): sophisticated modelling of continuity and change in these areas is essential if we want to get the bigger picture, especially given the now-widespread view that syntactic change itself is rare and occurs only when it has to (Keenan 1994, Longobardi 2001), or that syntactic change per se may not even exist (Hale 1998: 14). In general, though, the level of formal analysis across the papers is extremely variable: while some contain detailed analyses (e.g. Willis, Clark, Aldridge), others merely hint at what the formalization of their approach would be (e.g. Garrett, Haugen). The latter approach is not necessarily problematic, assuming with Chomsky (1990: 145-146) that formalization is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. However, the extra rigour provided by description within a well-articulated formal framework is one of the cornerstones of the DiGS literature, and I hope that this does not decline with future volumes.
The book is well laid out and typeset, and typos and other errors (e.g. “Lighfoot”, p4; “peeks” for “peaks”, p148; “6 case in where”, p242) are rare. As regards the content of the volume, I have two main criticisms, relating to the use of quantitative data and to discussion of diachrony more generally, which I will discuss in turn.
In the introduction it is stressed, rightly, that diachronic syntacticians have been instrumental in the development of annotated corpora for historical linguistic research. This is with good reason: since students of historically-attested languages have no access to speaker judgements, all historical syntax is either corpus linguistics or bad corpus linguistics. With few exceptions, however, the papers in this volume are unforthcoming with regard to their evidential basis. In particular, few papers present quantitative information, and where such information is presented the authors often play fast and loose. Postma, for instance, provides a number of graphs showing percentages (pp142-144) but does not give the percentages in numeric form or the raw numbers; Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov provide percentages, but without raw numbers, and use the phrase “statistically significant” (p165) without reference to any statistical test; Crisma, while presenting more substantial data, refers to a ratio of “about 1:100” (p203). The only authors to make use of inferential statistics are Haeberli & Pintzuk and Clark. Of course, the provision of quantitative data, like formalization, is only a means to an end; the numbers only tell us what we might want to consider explaining, and do not provide explanations in and of themselves. Nevertheless, given that another of the DiGS cornerstones as expressed by the introduction is the use of reliable data, it is to be hoped that future volumes of this kind will contain higher levels of quantitative sophistication, as this enables the reader to have greater confidence in the evidential basis of the claims being made.
The third DiGS cornerstone set out by the introduction is the rejection of independent principles of change as diachronically causal. While this constitutes an important methodological advance, it is notable in this volume that many of the papers do not focus on explaining syntactic change at all (e.g. Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Vulchanov, Guardiano, Haeberli & Pintzuk, van Kemenade & Miliæev, Haugen). In those papers in which more than one synchronic stage is discussed, the link between the two stages is often given very little spaceGuardiano, for instance, briefly mentions that a generalization under discussion is “the consequence of a parameter resetting” (p192), and Haugen discusses a number of stages but only attempts to link them together on p330 with a brief discussion of possible reanalyses. It goes without saying that the juxtaposition of two accounts of the synchronic syntax of different stages of a language, however elegant and well-motivated the analyses might be, does not constitute an explanation for a change, even though such analysis is a prerequisite for successful discussion of diachrony. The rejection of independent principles of change is all well and good, but should not lead to avoidance of addressing the causes of change.
The papers by Kiparsky and Garrett do focus on the mechanisms of change, arguing that reanalysis occupies too dominant a position in historical syntactic explanation; see also de Smet (2009). However, like de Smet, both propose to solve the perceived problem with recourse to analogy, and I have some reservations about this. Kiparsky’s notion of analogy is very powerful: it may be proportional or non-proportional (p48), exemplar-based or non-exemplar-based (p49), and paradigmatic or non-paradigmatic (p41); and it subsumes degrammaticalization. Whether grammaticalization is also subsumed under the heading of analogy is rather unclear from the paper: Kiparsky demonstrates, convincingly, that the interaction of grammaticalization and analogy is complex (pp23-37), argues that grammaticalization (like degrammaticalization) is a special case of analogical change (p49), then concludes that analogical change and grammaticalization are “mechanisms” of change that can interact (p51). He criticizes reanalysis for being a ‘looser’ theory of change (p50), but by reducing essentially all grammatical change to analogy it seems to me that Kiparsky has reinstated analogy as a ‘dustbin category’, of no theoretical consequence and making no empirical predictions in itself. Garrett, meanwhile, while attacking the ‘blinkered’ attachment of many historical syntacticians to reanalysis, offers no particular definition of analogy beyond the traditional vague intuition (p52). While I accept that reanalysis can be abused in the way that Kiparsky and Garrett are cautioning against, then, I see no reason to relegate it to a back seat - particularly in view of the elegant reanalysis-based accounts of change elsewhere in this volume (Willis, Martins, Aldridge).
In sum, though, this volume shows that approaching historical syntax from a generative perspective can be fruitful. It shows that proponents of this approach are not afraid to question old orthodoxies, test out the implications of new theories, or explore areas of grammar beyond the syntax itself, and it shows that they are committed, by and large, to a rigorous methodology for description. All in all, this volume shows that the field is thriving. Historical syntax is by its nature a backward-looking discipline, but looking to the future, with a volume such as this in hand, one can’t fail to be excited.
REFERENCES Baker, Mark C. 2001. The atoms of language: the mind’s hidden rules of grammar. New York: Basic Books.
Chomsky, Noam. 1990. On formalization and formal linguistics. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 8, 143-147.
De Smet, Hendrik. 2009. Analysing reanalysis. Lingua 119, 1728-1755.
Gelderen, Elly van. 2004. Grammaticalization as economy. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Keenan, Edward. 1994. Creating anaphors: an historical study of the English reflexive pronouns. Ms., University of California at Los Angeles.
Longobardi, Giuseppe. 2001. Formal syntax, diachronic Minimalism, and etymology: the history of French chez. Linguistic Inquiry 32, 275-302.
Meillet, Antoine. 1912. L’évolution des formes grammaticales. Scientia 12, 384-400.
Roberts, Ian, & Anna Roussou. 2003. Syntactic change: a Minimalist approach to grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sobin, Nicholas. 1997. Agreement, default rules, and grammatical viruses. Linguistic Inquiry 28, 318-343.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
George Walkden is a Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics & English
Language, University of Manchester. His PhD dissertation, on aspects of
early Germanic clause structure and the methodology of syntactic
reconstruction, is near completion. He is also the editor of the
recently-founded Journal of Historical Syntax (http://historicalsyntax.org).