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ven. 25/01/2019 Séminaire DTT
The new typology of constituency and convergence
ISH - salle André Frossard

Adam J.R. Tallman (DDL)
with Dennis Wylie, Anthony C. Woodbury, Gladys Camacho Rios, Hiroto Uchihara, Kelsey Neely, Natalia Bermudez, Ambrocio Gutierrez, Cristian Juarez, Willem de Reuse, Patience Epps, Andrés Salanova, Eric Adell, Michael Everdell, Eric Campbell, Javier Carol

In this talk we discuss some foundational problems in the cross-linguistic comparison of wordhood and constituency. We present a solution to these problems and apply them to the study of 14 languages of the America (Chácobo (Pano), Yaminawa (Pano), Hup (Naduhup), Mebengokre (Ge), Chatino (Oto-Manguean), Quechua (Quechua), Mocoví (Guaicuruan), Zapotec (Oto-Manguean), Central Alaskan Yupik (Yupik-Inuit-Unangan), Apache (Na-Dene Athabaskan), Cherokee (Iroquioan), Naso (Chibchan), Chajul Ixil (Mayan), Southeastern Tepehuan (Uto-Aztecan), Chorote (Matacoan)). We argue for a new methodology that rests on rejection of a number of assumptions (often implicit) in descriptive and typological work: (i) the distinction between morphological and syntactic positions (ii) the distinction between morphosyntactic and phonological words; (iii) the distinction between wordhood and phrasehood diagnostics. Instead, we propose that an approach to cross-linguistic comparison of constituency that involves the systematic application of constituency diagnostics coded in a typological database that does not presuppose these distinctions. Languages are compared in terms of how many levels emerge out of the application of the diagnostics, the convergences between diagnostics, and the robustness of these convergences given the parameters of their application. We present a new set of terminology for describing sentence structure and comparing the results of constituency tests that we refer to as “flat structures” (based on a critical engagement and synthesis of the morphological and syntactic representations found in and Bickel and Zúñiga (2017) and Culicover and Jackendoff (2005)).

One of the most serious critiques of the investigation of constituency is methodological opportunism (e.g. Croft 2001; Croft 2010; Haspelmath 2011). Rather than lapsing into one of the two extremes of categorial universalism or categorial particularism (e.g. Haspelmath 2010), we deal with this problem by positing a novel concept referred to as the probability of chance convergence. This refers to the likelihood that two or more constituency diagnostics could have converged around the same result by chance given the number of tests applied and the morphosyntactic positions in the language. We also show how a metric of the probability of chance convergence can be computed. We argue that this methodology takes important steps towards overcoming language-internal and cross-linguistic methodological opportunism.

Our study has the following results:

• Languages vary in terms of whether and the extent to which a word constituent is motivated. This finding calls into question the whole framing of the debate on lexicalism (Marantz 1997; Wechsler 2005; Bruening 2018; Müller 2018) and wordhood generally (Blevins 2016; Geertzen et al. 2016).

• The distinction between grammatical and phonological word is not motivated in any language. This finding undermines some basic premises of certain formulations of Basic Linguistic Theory (e.g. Dixon 2010 and generative theories of phonological constituency such as prosodic phonology (Nespor & Vogel 1986).

We discuss other findings from this study and the future research that they could inspire. We also discuss the relevance of these findings for linguistic description.


Bickel, Balthasar, and Fernando Zuñiga. 2017. "The 'word' in polysynthetic languages: phonological and syntactic challenges." In The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis, edited by Michael Fortascue, Marianne Mithun and Nichols Evans, 158-186. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bickel, Balthasar, Kristine A. Hildebrandt, and René Schiering. 2009. "The distribution of phonological word domains: A probabilistic typology." In Phonological Domains: Universals and Deviations, edited by Janet Grijzenhout and Kabak Baris, 47-75. De Gruyter Mouton.

Blevins, James P. 2006. "Word-based morphology." Journal of Linguistics 42 (3): 531-573.

Blevins, James P. 2016. Word and Paradigm Morphology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bresnan, Joan, and Sam A. McHombo. 1995. "The Lexical Integrity Principle: Evidence from Bantu." Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 13 (2): 181-254.

Bruening, Benjamin. 2018. "The lexicalist hypothesis: Both wrong and superfluous." Language 94 (1): 1-42. Croft, William. 2010. "Radical Construction Grammar." In The Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar, edited by Thomas Hoffman and Graeme Trousdale, 211-232. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

—. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Croft, William. 2010. "Ten unwarranted assumptions in syntactic argumentation." In Language Usage and Language Structure, edited by Kasper Boye and Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen, 313-350. Mouton de Gruyter.

Culicover, Peter W., and Ray Jackendoff. 2005. Simpler Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dixon, R.M.W, and Alexandra Y Aikhenvald. 2002. "Word: a typological framework." In Word: A cross-linguistic typology, edited by R.M.W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, 1-34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dixon, R.M.W. 2010. Basic Linguistic Theory, Vol.2: Grammatical Topics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dryer, Matthew. 2017. The myth of grammatical (morphosyntactic) words. ms.

Geertzen, Jeroen, James P Blevins, and Petar Milin. 2016. "The informativeness of linguistic unit bondaries." Italian Journal of Linguistics 28 (2): 1-24.

Halle, Morris, and Alec Marantz. 1993. "Distributed Morphology and the Pieces of Inflection." In The view from building 20, edited by Ken Halle and S.J. Keyser, 111-176. MIT Press.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2010. "Comparative concepts and descriptive categories in crosslinguistic studies." Language 86 (3): 663-687.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2011. "The indeterminacy of word segmentation and the nature of morphology and syntax." Folia Linguistica (Mouton de Gruyter - Societas Linguistica Europaea) 45 (1): 31-80.

Marantz, Alec. 1997. "No Escape from Syntax: Don't Try Morphological Analysis in the Pricavy of Your Own Lexicon." U Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 4 (2): 201-225.

Müller, Stefan. 2018. "The end of Lexicalism as we know it?" Language 94 (1): e54-e66.

Nespor, Marina, and Irene Vogel. 1986. Prosodic Phonology. Dordrecht: Foris Publications.

Schiering, René, Balthsar Bickel, and Kristine A. Hildebrandt. 2010. "The prosodic word is not unviersal, but emergent." Journal of Linguistics 46 (03): 657-709.

Wechsler, Stephen. 2008. "Dualist Syntax." Edited by Stefan Müller. Proceedings of the HPSG08 Conference. NICT, Keihanna, Japan: CSLI Publications. http://csli-publications.stanford.edu/.



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