Linguistic Universals

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1 Armin W. Buch /11/28 1 Relying heavily on material by Gerhard Jäger and David Erschler

2 Linguistic Properties shared by all languages Trivial: all languages have consonants and vowels More interesting: Do properties correlate? Something like If a language has a phoneme /u/, than it has neutral gender (wrong!) implicational

3 Example of an implicational universal If a language has first/second person reflexives, it has third person reflexives. Modern English: 1st, 2nd, 3rd person ( myself... ) Modern French, German: only 3rd person ( sich ) Old English: no dedicated forms for reflexives 1/2 reflexives, but no 3 reflexives: unattested

4 Joseph Greenberg, 1963: Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements a relatively small sample of geographically and genetically diverse languages investigated correlations between features of word order in a somewhat hard to define basic word order Also keep in mind languages with no fixed word order (Slavic l., Latin,... )

5 Problems Most are only statistical, not absolute Correlations might be due to: genetic relationship areal distribution chance: all instances of a rare feature might co-occur with a certain very frequent feature So it is not very clear how to count independent events. But still, give a general feeling of what to expect

6 Greenberg 1 In declarative sentences with nominal subject and object, the dominant order is [... ] 2 one in which the subject precedes the object. WALS map Mind the nominal : pronominal forms might behave differently 2 I m leaving out statements of frequency ( almost always etc.).

7 Greenberg 2 In languages with prepositions, the genitive [... ] follows the governing noun, while in languages with postpositions it [... ] precedes it. WALS map diachronic explanation: Genitive constructions are a possible source for adpositions (source) English in front of etc. Japanese postpositions: (1) Tēburu-no ue-ni aru Table-GEN top-loc exists It s on the table.

8 Greenberg 3 [... ] languages with dominant VSO order are always prepositional. WALS map

9 Greenberg 4 Languages with normal SOV order are postpositional. WALS map Well known exception: Latin (SOV, prepositions) (2) rem publicam universam petis thing.acc public.acc whole.acc attack.2sg You are attacking the whole republic. (Cic. Cat1.) (3) ex urbe from city.abl out of the city

10 Greenberg 5 If a language has dominant SOV order and the genitive follows the governing noun, then the adjective likewise follows the noun.

11 Greenberg 8 When a yes-no question is differentiated from the corresponding assertion by an intonational pattern, the distinctive intonational features of each of these patterns are reckoned from the end of the sentence rather than from the beginning.

12 Greenberg 9 [... ] when question particles or affixes are specified in position by reference to the sentence as a whole, if initial, such elements are found in prepositional languages, and, if final, in postpositional. WALS map weak evidence

13 Greenberg 12 If a language has dominant order VSO in declarative sentences, it always puts interrogative words or phrases first in interrogative word questions; if it has dominant order SOV in declarative sentences, there is never such an invariant rule. WALS map

14 Greenberg 17 [... ] languages with dominant order VSO have the adjective after the noun. WALS map There is no evidence of any relationship between the order of Verb and Object and the order of Adjective and Noun. (Dryer 1988:191, Dryer 1986:98; as cited here)

15 Greenberg 18 When the descriptive adjective precedes the noun, the demonstrative and the numeral, [... ] do likewise. WALS map

16 Greenberg 19 When the general rule is that the descriptive adjective follows, there may be a minority of adjectives which usually precede, but when the general rule is that descriptive adjectives precede, there are no exceptions. French: petit, grand

17 Greenberg 20 When any or all of the items (demonstrative, numeral, and descriptive adjective) precede the noun, they are always found in that order. If they follow, the order is either the same or its exact opposite.

18 Greenberg 25 If the pronominal object follows the verb, so does the nominal object. Not vice versa! Example from Russian (4) Rybak pojmal rybu fisherman caught fish The fisherman caught a fish. (5) Rybak jejo pojmal fisherman her caught The fisherman caught it.

19 Greenberg 27 If a language is exclusively suffixing, it is postpositional; if it is exclusively prefixing, it is prepositional.

20 Greenberg 28 If both the derivation and inflection follow the root, or they both precede the root, the derivation is always between the root and the inflection.

21 Greenberg 29 If a language has inflection, it always has derivation.

22 Greenberg 34 No language has a trial number unless it has a dual. No language has a dual unless it has a plural.

23 Greenberg 36 If a language has the category of gender, it always has the category of number.

24 Greenberg 37 A language never has more gender categories in nonsingular numbers than in the singular. German: No morphological gender in plural (demonstratives, determiners, adjectives)

25 Greenberg 42 All languages have pronominal categories involving at least three persons and two numbers. 4 persons: inclusive ( We re going to the cinema... Great! ) vs. exclusive we (... without you. )

26 Explanations for At least some of are fairly robust, and thus need to be explained Are they wired into our brain (universal grammar)? A priori, this is at contradiction with the statistical nature of the findings. What would a language be like if it violated a universal? Harder to learn/speak/process? Not even a language? In word order, uniform headedness seems to be preferred

27 Structures that are easier to process will be grammaticalized before the grammar sanctions a more difficult structure of the relevant type. This results in implicational dependencies such as if SOV, then postpositions in PP, a word-order co-occurrence that will be argued to be optimal for processing, in contrast to SOV and prepositions. Many of the are explained by head of phrase generalization. Head-final languages will have SOV, postpositions, genitive-noun order etc, whereas in head-initial languages the situation is reverse. (Hawkins 1983, 1994)

28 Sources World Atlas of Language Structures Universals Archive Das grammatische Raritätenkabinett

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