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Review of  Time Over Matter

Reviewer: Gerda Hassler
Book Title: Time Over Matter
Book Author: Miriam Butt Tracy Holloway King
Publisher: CSLI Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Book Announcement: 14.390

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Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 23:31:06 +0100
Subject: Review: Time over Matter. Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax

Butt, Miriam & Tracy Holloway King, ed. (2001) Time over Matter.
Diachronic Perspectives on Morphosyntax. CSLI
Publications. Center for the Study of Language and
Information, Leland Stanford Junior University, paperback
ISBN 1-57586-282-4, VI+246pp, Studies in Constraint-Based

Reviewer: Gerda Hassler, Institut für Romanistik, Universität Potsdam


This volume comprises seven papers examining problems in
historical (morpho)syntax from the perspective of Lexical-
Functional Grammar (LFG).
The first paper written by Nigel Vincent entitled "LFG as a
Model of Syntactic Change" serves as an introduction. He
seeks to develop a general case for the contribution that a
lexically-based correspondence model of grammar can make to
our understanding of morphosyntactic change. He starts with
the discussion of continuity and discontinuity in language
change and points out that Lightfoot criticises
grammaticalisation theorists for their insistence on
continuity and directionality in change, while they in turn
criticise him for ignoring the challenge that
grammaticalisation data seem to pose to discontinuous models.
He argues that LFG has not come encumbered with the
ideological crust that has accreted around much of the
current debate on language change. It is a model which allows
a reconciliation of the legitimate, twentieth-century concern
for linguistics to be a formal discipline with the inevitable
fuzziness that comes from the anchoring of language at least
in part in the pragmatically and semantically determined
goals of language use. The word "functional" has been
incorporated into the name of at least two other grammatical
theories, namely Halliday's Functional Grammar and Simon
Dik's Functional Grammar. While these "functionalist" views
are committed to seeing language primarily in its socio-
communicative dimension, the architecture of LFG opens up the
possibility that "functional" in the sense of functionalist
considerations might be involved in the principles which
dictate the correspondence between structures. Discussing
Lightfoot's position, the author argues that a differential
granularity of change is what is missing in much of the
generative polemicisation about change. LFG is presented as a
model that allows space both for large-scale and small-scale shifts.
In the theory of grammaticalisation, Vincent holds the view
that sees change as having a direction. But the key question
is whether this frequently observed directionality is built
into the definition of grammaticalisation or whether it is an
empirical hypothesis thrown up by research within this
framework. The phenomenon of grammaticalisation, and
especially its directional asymmetry, are real and in need of
explanation. Finally, Vincent argues that they can be
modelled in LFG. Vincent discusses several points dividing
researchers, such as Optimality Theory.
All Romance languages, for example, exhibit a class of items
known as clitics, and in all the modern languages these items
occupy one or more of a number of syntactically determined
positions in relation to the verb. In Latin, the ancestors of
the modern pronouns for the most part followed Wackernage's
law and occurred in second position in their clause. Put at
its most simple, the Latin distribution was prosodically
determined whereas the modern distribution is dictated by
syntactic principles, albeit different ones in different
languages, and at different times in the history of the
respective language. Anderson (2000) shows how in an
analogous situation in Serbo-Croat the second position effect
is economically and naturally derived through the interaction
of two constraints. Discussing the advantages of LFG in
explaining language change, Vincent points out that it avoids
many vices of other theories: it does not beg the issue of
realisation and thus can provide a representational basis for
competing variants out of which change can grow. It is not
forced to see morphosyntactic change as the response to the
erosive effects of sound change.

The second paper, written by Cynthia Allen, deals with "The
Development of a New Passive in English". In such passives,
frequently called "indirect" or "recipient" passives
(example: He was given a book), it is not the theme, but the
recipient that is treated as the subject. LFG offers a simple
explanation of the timing of the appearance of this new
construction, while the traditional assumption that case-
marking ambiguity directly led to a re-analysis does not.
Allen argues that the introduction of the recipient passive
is in fact evidence of the re-analysis, but the re-analysis
was not of the fronted indirect object as a subject, but it
was the re-analysis of the indirect object in active
sentences as a direct object. This change was gradual and
proceeded at a different pace with individual verbs. Allen
assumes a more indirect connection between the loss of case
marking and the introduction of the new construction, since
it is highly plausible that the loss of case marking
encouraged speakers to rely more and more on constituent
order for sorting out the grammatical and semantic relations
of a sentence. The immediate trigger for the re-analysis,
however, was the fixing of constituent order.

The subject of Julia Barron's paper is "Perception and
Raising Verbs: Synchronic and Diachronic Relationships". She
examines the relationship between verbs denoting visual
perception or visible appearance and subject-to-subject
raising verbs denoting epistemic judgment. She looks
at synchronic relations between verbs of perception and
raising verbs, and then she shows how one notion of semantic
bleaching may correspond to the historical dissociation of
function and theta-role. Semantic bleaching, however, is not
a sudden process, but a gradual one. Given that vision is the
primary sensory source of intellection, it is not surprising
that in many languages the verb meaning "to see" is related
to a verb meaning "to seem" in its sense of "to be perceived
as". But in many cases the subject of the equivalent of
"seems" is some kind of stimulus providing visual
information. In other cases the subject simply fulfils
syntactic and information structure requirements and is non-
thematic, and hence the structure is that of a raising

Miriam Butt has contributed a paper entitled "A Re-
examination of the Accusative to Ergative Shift in Indo-
Aryan". She undertakes a re-examination of the purported
development of a split ergative system in Urdu/Hindi from an
accusative system in Sanskrit. This shift is generally taken
to be connected to a passive structure that is interpreted as
active. A closer look at the historical facts reveals that
some of the essential ingredients cannot be substantiated.
The paper collects the problems with the hypothesis of a case
system shift for Indo-Iran in a coherent package while adding
further findings. The hypothesis that instrumental -ina was
the direct ancestor of the ergative "ne" has been shown to be
questionable. An alternative hypothesis is that the ergative
is a calque from a dative form that was used either in a
dialect of Hindi or in a neighbouring related language. The
alternative hypothesis put forward by Butt is that Urdu/Hindi
represents a continuation of a system of case marking which
employed a rich variety of non-nominative subject marking,
but whose structural alignment is underlyingly accusative:
subjects group together vs. objects with regard to a number
of syntactic properties. She hypothesises that many of the
modern case markers were drawn from a set of postpositions
and that they gradually took over the functions of case
markers as the Sanskrit inflectional case marking collapsed.

In "Representation and Variation: On the Development of
Romance Auxiliary Syntax" Christoph Schwarze endeavours to
expound on how to construct the model of linguistic
competence so as to encompass historical change and that this
is not achieved simply by attributing change to the
conditions under which children acquire language. He starts
with general assumptions about linguistic change. If there
are no parameters, but only lexically encoded instantiations
of Universal Grammar, syntactic change is also lexical
change, and there is no reason to exclude the possibility
that the variations from which language change originates can
occur at any stage of an individual's life. Language change
can then be defined as diachronic variation of the
mentallexicon, socially shared through communication.
Schwarze argues that LFG makes it possible to describe
abstract grammatical information, such as tense, regardless
of whether that information is expressed by morphology or
syntax. This is regarded as an advantage for the analysis of
the rise of Romance compound tenses and periphrastic
passives, which is a process in which morphology is replaced
by syntax. Schwarze first characterises the current states of
the auxiliaries in Spanish, Italian and French, thereafter he
sketches the developments that have led to these states. The
emergence of the Romance auxiliary syntax in a period of
orality is paramount to changes of lexically encoded
properties of those Latin verbs which were to become Romance
auxiliaries and of the Latin past passive and deponent
Of the two types of variation discussed in this study, local
variation is more responsible for innovations, while global
variation accounts for the further fate of innovations.
Finally, Schwarze points out that global structures vary
under the influence of conflicting principles of

In "Preferred Word Order and the Grammaticalization of
Associated Path", Jane Simpson studies the apparent paradox
of some Australian languages that they have free word order,
and yet they have rich morphological structure which shows
evidence of grammaticalisation, that is, of bound morphemes
which appear historically to have been free words. She first
illustrates the cline of grammaticalisation of associated
path in morphology, Then she describes a synchronic
participle-verb sequence which provides a model for the move
from phrase sequence towards word. Her focus is on the path
that leads to grammaticalisation, and in particular the
"point of shift" where syntactic re-analysis takes place.

In the final paper Ida Toivonen discusses "Language Change,
Lexical Features and Finnish Possessors". The data
considered comes from the Finnish possessive system, which
involves both independent pronouns and bound affixes which
interact in a complex manner. Morphosyntactic change is
described with reference to lexical features. She wants t
demonstrate that the formal framework of Lexical-Functional
Grammar provides all the necessary tools. Exploring the
origin of the lexical split, she shows how the present
lexical analysis can help us understand the evolution of the
modern system. Further changes that have occurred in various
Finnish dialects can easily be captured with lexical

Critical evaluation
The contributions of this book have shown that LFG can
accommodate both sudden and  gradual syntactic change. They
explain changes as the result of a re-analysis of grammatical
relations and offer new insight into this process. The
language phenomena chosen in the book represent fundamental
changes in the syntax of languages, and for this reason, may
not be representative for language change as a whole. The
authors of this volume remain convinced that modern
linguistics, with its focus on structural data and on an
underlying cognitive conception of competence, has achieved
genuine scientific progress, and that it is possible to
integrate issues that were central in the nineteenth century.
The book is interesting for everyone who works on language
change and grammaticalisation. The focus on LFG is not as
prominent in all the contributions as one might expect it to
be, but the different approaches are presented in a
convincing way. There are several unfortunate typing errors,
especially in the introductory paper and in the numbering of
the sections of the last one. Altogether, the volume shows
that a detailed and specific theory of the lexicon can be
useful for understanding morphosyntactic change.

Anderson, Stephen. 2000. Towards an Optimal Account of Second
Position. In: Optimality Theory: Phonology, Syntax and
Acquisition. Ed. Joost Dekkers, Frank van der Leeuw and
Jeroen van de Weijer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 302-333.
Bresnan, Joan. 2001. Lexical Functional Syntax. Oxford:
Butt, Miriam  and Tracy Holloway  King. 2002. The Proceedings
of the LFG '02 Conference. National Technical University of
Athens. CSLI Publications.
Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The
Evolution of Grammar, Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the
Languages of the World. Chicago, Illinois: University of
Chicago Press.
Lightfoot, David. 1991. How to Set Parameters. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Lightfoot, David. 1999. The Development of Language.
Acquisition, Change, and Evolution. Malden, Massachusetts:
Newmeyer, Frederick. 1008. Language Form and Language
Function. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Newmeyer, Frederick. 2001. Deconstructing Grammaticalization.
In: Language Sciences 23: 187-229.


Gerda Hassler is a professor of linguistics in the Department of Romance Languages of the University of Potsdam. Her main areas of research interests include syntax, semantics, and the history of linguistics.

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