Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2005 16:49:25 -0800 (PST) From: Sanford Steever Subject: Polymorphous Linguistics: Jim McCawley's Legacy
EDITORS: Mufwene, Salikoko; Francis, Elaine J.; Wheeler, Rebecca S. TITLE: Polymorphous Linguistics SUBTITLE: Jim McCawley's Legacy PUBLISHER: MIT Press YEAR: 2005
Sanford B. Steever, unaffiliated scholar
James D. McCawley (1938-1999) is well-known for his many contributions to phonology, syntax, semantics, linguistic logic and the philosophy of science, not to mention the arts of cuisine and music. While most linguists know his work primarily through his writings, he also exerted a strong influence on the field through his teaching. In at least two well-known cases, these two currents of his work coincided in his two big textbooks, "Everything that linguists always wanted to know about logic, but were ashamed to ask" (McCawley 1981) and "The syntactic phenomena of English" (McCawley 1998), both of which took shape in classrooms at the University of Chicago as Jim sought to find textbooks that he could comfortably use without continual caveats or heavy annotation.
This commemorative volume includes 22 contributions of linguists who studied with him and whose work was shaped to some degree or other by him. Their exposure to Jim's teaching ranges from taking courses with him at an LSA summer Linguistic Institute to having him as their primary dissertation advisor at Chicago.
As a matter of disclosure, I studied with Jim at the University of Chicago, where he chaired my dissertation committee. Further, I am also acquainted with half of the contributors to this volume, either as a friend, a student, a classmate, a coeditor, a coauthor, or, in one case, a roommate.
The volume begins with an appreciation of Jim McCawley as a scholar and teacher, written by Salikoko Mufwene (xi-xvi), followed by a list of Jim's publications (xvii-xxx). This is followed by the editors' Introduction (1-23), which attempts to place the individual chapters in the context of Jim's work and teaching. The volume is divided into six parts: Phonology; Syntax; Tense, Aspect, and Mood; Semantics and Pragmatics; Knowledge of Language; and Encyclopedia and Language.
At a time and in a discipline when much linguistic theory was expressed in terms of, and exemplified by, English, Jim inspired his students to look for linguistic insights in other languages. This volume includes discussions of linguistic phenomena in Bangla (1 article), Burmese (1), Hindi (2), Hungarian (1), Japanese (4), Korean (2), Lingala (1), Tamil (2) Zuni (1). In fact, when English phenomena are analyzed in this volume, it is often by a scholar for whom English is a non-first language (e.g., Mufwene, Farkas).
Timothy Vance's "Sequential voicing and Lyman's Law in Old Japanese" (27-43), the only phonology paper in the volume, leads off the set of 22 papers. It explores the history of sequential voicing, or rendaku, in Japanese. Based on historical evidence, Vance shows that, instead of a single bidirectional constraint, two separate phonological processes are subsumed under this phenomenon.
E. Annamalai discusses two kinds of motivations in "NP gaps in Tamil: syntactic versus pragmatic" (47-68). Some gaps in Tamil are shown to be syntactically motivated (and recoverable), while others prove to be pragmatically motivated. While the correlation between syntactic vs. pragmatic motivation with certain definable structures is not absolute, syntactic motivation appears to be unmarked for intrasentential gaps while pragmatic motivation is unmarked for extrasentential, or discourse, gaps.
Michael Shapiro's paper "Vaacya, prayoga, and Hindi sentences without grammatical subjects" (69-82) argues that two concepts from the indigenous Hindi grammar tradition can help us make sense of a variety of "subjectless" sentences in Hindi. This paper ably exemplifies Jim McCawley's "consumerist" approach to ideas about linguistic analysis (see Lawler 2003).
Harold Schiffman's "The grammaticalization of aspect in Tamil and its semantic sources" (pp.83-107) invokes both metaphor and grammaticalization to explain certain auxiliary constructions in Tamil. This chapter is a version of the author's paper, "The role of metaphor in the grammaticalization of aspect in Tamil," presented at the American Anthropological Association, Chicago, November 1999. Having just published a book on the Tamil auxiliary system (Steever 2005), I can offer two remarks. First, the appeal to "metaphor" to explain the development of auxiliary structures appears to be neither sufficient nor necessary. It is not sufficient because the English translation of a metaphor that putatively motivates an auxiliary structure in Tamil does not do so in English and so must be language- or structure-dependent; it is not necessary because more prosaic linguistic factors can be shown to explain auxiliary structures (Steever 1993). Second, while grammaticalization is inherently a diachronic process, Schiffman presents no historical evidence in support of its operation in Tamil. True, the sandhi rules of Modern Tamil permit the pronunciation of the auxiliary compound verb vantu viTTaarkaL 'they did-2 come-1' as vantiTTaanka 'id.', but the word-formation rules of the language still motivate a segmentation of the latter into two words with as many word and morpheme boundaries as the former so this alternation is synchronic, not diachronic
Tista Bagchi's "Causation and tense in subordinate clauses: conjunctive participles and conditionals in Bangla and Hindi" (109- 134) explores the interaction of unaccusativity and ergativity with tense and causation in the formation of subordinate clauses in Bangle and Hindi. This chapter contributes to the extensive literature on the syntactic characterization of conjunctive verb forms in the South Asian linguistic area.
Etsuyo Yuasa's "Independence in subordinate clauses: analysis of nonrestrictive relative clauses in English and Japanese" (135-160) asks whether McCawley's analysis of English nonrestrictive relative clauses as forming discontinuous constituents with their heads can be applied to Japanese. An answer in the affirmative is provided by several syntactic arguments, showing that Jim's analysis can naturally explain similar phenomena in languages as typologically different as English (non-SVO, in Jim's terms) and Japanese (SOV).
Elaine J. Francis' "Syntactic mimicry as evidence for prototypes in grammar" (161-181) extends McCawley's claim that syntactic categories are not bundles of discrete syntactic features, but prototypes that reflect syntactic, semantic, morphological and possibly other dimensions of linguistic structure. Demonstrations such as this suggest that strict X-bar theories need to be viewed more critically and constructed more flexibly if they are to reflect actual linguistic phenomena.
Geoffrey Huck's "Gerundive modifiers in English and Korean" (183- 201) studies differences in absolute and relative gerundive modifiers in English and Korean. He proposes to extend Na's (1991) restriction on Korean relative clauses (the Thematic Well-formedness Condition) to the analysis of gerundive modifiers, which in some early analyses appeared to be highly reduced relative clauses.
Yoko Sugioka's "Multiple mechanisms underlying morphological productivity" (203-223) explores deverbal compounds in Japanese and discovers a distinction between processes that exhibit rule-like behavior and others that do not, attempting to relate them to a distinction between a mental rule (that obviates the need to store individual derivatives) and memory (which allows such storage).
Salikoko Mufwene's "How many be-s are there in English" (226-246) takes one of McCawley's arguments for auxiliaries a step further, claiming that copular "be" is transformationally inserted rather than base-generated, and therefore resembles auxiliary "be." This unites the copular, existential and auxiliary uses of the word under a single banner.
Robert Binnick's "On McCawley on Tense" (249-260) provides a thoughtful critique of McCawley on the semantics of tense. From McCawley's celebrated analysis of the English present perfect, which he contrasts with an early analysis of Partee's, Binnick attempts to educe a more general treatment of verbal tense and aspect.
Wesley Jacobsen's "On the fuzzy boundary between tense and aspect in Japanese" (261-282) argues against some traditional grammarians that Japanese does in fact have tense. He notes that under certain circumstances and in certain settings, temporal notions coalesce as tense (including relative tense, or taxis) while in others they coalesce as aspect.
Lynn Nichol's "Counterfactuality in Burmese" (283-294) takes up the expression of counterfactual conditionals in Burmese. She concludes that while one can have a constant semantic characterization of counterfactual conditions across languages, the morphosyntactic realization of counterfactuality admits a degree of variation. The distinction between ordinary and counterfactual conditions in Burmese is shown to turn on an attitudinal evaluation of distance between the real world and alternative possible worlds.
Suk-Jun Chang's "Retrospective mood in Korean: A constraint-based approach" (295-326) presents an analysis of the retrospective verb paradigm on Korean, one that has been variously characterized as a tense or mood.
Laurence Horn's "An Un- Paper for the Unsyntactician" (329-365) analyzes the increasingly productive word-formation process that generates English nouns such as "Un-cola." Perhaps better than any other paper in this volume, Horn's captures the sense of delight and glee that Jim McCawley could bring to the analysis of some corner of language that no one had bothered to spend much time looking at. Both scholarly and witty, this paper shows how the semantics of un- words, as often happens in derivational morphology, can deviate — in predictable ways — from the basic compositionality of their component parts, which is no mean feat.
Donka Farkas' "Semantic noun phrase typology" (368-87) proposes a crosslinguistic typology of noun phrases based on a division between structural distinctions and what she calls fine distinctions. After examining English and Hungarian, she concludes that surface gross clausal combinatorics are insensitive to the fine nominal distinctions which may be made in semantic analysis.
Almerindo Ojeda's "The Paradox of Mass Plurals" (389-410) proposes a framework in which to resolve the paradox presented by mass plurals, a conundrum which Jim bequeathed to linguists for analysis. His treatment draws upon such different languages as English, Lingala and Zuni.
Katharine Beals' "Everything That Linguistics Have Always Wanted to Know about Ironic Presupposition and Implicatures but Were Ashamed to Ask" (411-429) attempts to tease out the conditions under which ironic statements are to be correctly interpreted. She concludes that the correct interpretation of irony depends on reference to linguistic conventions, not solely on a linguistically independent characterization of irony as a rhetorical figure.
William O'Grady's "Deficits in Pronoun Interpretation: Clues to a Theory of Competence and Acquisition" (434-454) uses processing theory to give actual cognitive substance to the way in which pronouns might be interpreted. This suggests that the way in which pronouns are interpreted may come under general cognitive capacities, rather than a dedicated linguistic faculty.
Jerry Morgan and Georgia Green's "Why Verb Agreement is Not the Poster Child for any General Formal Principle" (455-478) notes that many theoretical paradigms stake their claims to (partial) explanatory competence on their analyses of subject-verb agreement, then proceeds to show why such a reliance is misplaced. They demonstrate that both verb agreement in English and the linguistic generalization(s) that characterize it are far from uniform, requiring appeal to as many as five different principles. It would be a worthwhile project to apply this kind of analysis to languages where verb agreement is more extensively elaborated.
Barbara Luka's "A Cognitively Plausible Model of Linguistic Intuition" (479-502) presents a cognitively-based theory in virtue of which speakers' linguistic intuitions about their languages may be explained. She uses metacognitive attribution and preferences in implicit learning, or MAPIL, to help explain how speakers ground conscious decisions about their linguistic judgments in implicit memory for previously encountered linguistic structures.
Peter Daniels' "Language and Languages in the Eleventh Britannica" (505-529) rounds out the volume, providing a glimpse of what an educated nonspecialist just before World War I might have known about language and languages by surveying the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910-11). Although the editors attempted to recruit this chapter to the literature on "colonial" (and "postcolonial") critiques of language (page 20), it stands on its own as an enjoyable antiquarian study (using computer-aided searches) of what "unmarked" knowledge about language was available at a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.
This volume succeeds as an able tribute to Jim McCawley's strengths as a teacher. These papers, taken collectively, illustrate a number of lessons that Jim emphasized in his classroom teaching. His approach to language and linguistics lay less with endorsing a specific set of theories and more with an inquisitive, penetrating and critical approach to the analysis of language. He emphasized a respect for the role of meaning in language and its potential to influence syntax; downplaying of notational systems and foregrounding of the insights that theories might lead to; deep involvement in languages other than English, with an emphasis on languages of Asia; and a consumerist approach to linguistic ideas and theories. In this last instance, particularly, Jim held that the better a consumer and critic one was of linguistic theories, the better prepared one would be to create and use such theories.
The only noticeable gap in this already rich volume is the lack of a chapter that directly takes up one of Jim's main currents of thought, Linguistics and the Philosophy of Science. If none of the authors tackles it head on, however, the influence of this strand in Jim's work is nevertheless apparent in several chapters in the way that the authors will draw on multiple, well, polymorphous, approaches to language which they can use to express linguistic insights.
Finally, kudos to the MIT Press, the editors, and the copyeditors for their meticulous preparation of this volume.
Lawler, John. 2003. Obituary: James D. McCawley. Language 79:614- 25.
McCawley, James D. 1981. "Everything linguists always wanted to know about logic, but were ashamed to ask." Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCawley, James D. 1988. "The syntactic phenomena of English." Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Na, Younghee. 1991. Relativizability in Korean. Manuscript, University of Toronto.
Steever, Sanford B. 1993. "Analysis to synthesis: the development of complex verb morphology in the Dravidian languages." New York: Oxford University Press.
Steever, Sanford B. 2005. "The Tamil auxiliary verb system." London: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sanford Steever's interests include syntax, morphology and historical linguistics, particularly as they occur in the Dravidian languages. His book, "The Tamil auxiliary verb system," released this summer, is dedicated to three scholars, including Jim McCawley.