Evolution of Morphological Agreement - Peche KuchaPresentation Transcript
The Evolution of Morphological Agreement Richard Littauer @Richlitt Uni. Des. Saarlandes [email_address]
“ The essential notion is the covariance or matching of feature specifications between two separate elements. ”
Corbett also usefully defines ‘ target ’ , ‘ domain ’ , ‘ controller ’ , and ‘ agreement features ’ - his definitions will be followed (Corbett 1998: 191)
What is Agreement
The conventional historical explanation for morphology traces it to proto-syntax and phonology (Carstairs-McCarthy 1994: 46)
Protosyntax is far more studied, mostly due to controversies over where to put morphology:
its own component (Aranoff 1993)
wherever it is relevant to the syntax (Anderson 2004)
out of access of the syntax entirely (Chomsky 1970)
in the lexicon (Jensen 2004: 237)
as a cohesive whole with syntax (Bickerton 1990)
partially overlapping with syntax (Sadock 2004)
Heine and Kuteva (2007): six gradual stages from protolanguage to modern, and agreement occurs on the sixth.
Hurford (2002): “ agreement is part of the apparatus for mapping pre-linguistic representations onto strings ”
Casey & Kleunder (1995): the use of redundancy in mapping semantic relations justifies an early creation and maintenance of agreement.
Finally, the source of various agreement markings are often fronted as justifications for its evolution.
However, agreement is not always telistic, nor affected only by erosion (Corbett 2006: 273)
And furthermore, agreement lies on the interface between syntax and semantics (consider the phrase "the committee have decided"). So all of this has to be incorporated into a theory, which means that describing a straightforward origin of a single marker will not help.
Givon gives many examples: (Givon 1976: 173).
In redundant, predictable, obligatory verb- subject agreement cases, the agreement can become a way of signaling the syntactic type.
Differentiates between the stable subordinate clauses and the innovative environment of the main clause.
Marking general semantic-selectional typology.
There are others proposed uses for agreement:
Hawkins: marking nodes for help in parsing.
Levin: reference tracking.
Levin: marking constituency.
Siewierska: help in free word order
Corbett: expression of different perspectives
Jackendoff: signalling thematic roles.
Anderson: pronominal effect.
Sadock: agreements as arguments (ALS).
Almost none. (Awkward.)
” Grammaticalisation can hardly explain fully the origin of morphology as a pattern of grammatical organisation distinct from syntax. ” (Carstairs-McCarthy 2010: 50)
Furthermore, studies like Dunn, Gray, & Greenhill suggest that the parent languages affect daughter languages more than universals or underlying grammars. Ergo quick, almost a priori languages such as pidgins and creoles may not be the best guide.
Children figure out the basic properties of the agreement system very early on, at the same time as syntactically significant production (Cinque & Kayne 2005: 99)
Furthermore, Greek children have been shown to learn agreement markers faster than, say, English learners, which shows that the morphological complexity of a language is not a hindrance (just look at Archi, with over 1.5 million contrasting forms.) (Atsos 2011, Samson 2009)
Corbett reduced his hierarchy to three basic principles, which fit the bill for what proto-morphology might have looked like (Corbett 2006: 26-7):
Principle I: Canonical agreement is redundant rather than informative.
Principle II: Canonical agreement is syntactically simple.
Principle III: The closer the expression of agreement is to canonical (i.e. affixal) inflec-tional morphology, the more canonical it is as agreement.
“ It is not good enough simply to define a structural complexity hierarchy and assume it directly gives rise to a cross-linguistic hierarchy, because one needs to explain why not all languages opt for minimum complexity - that is, the top end of the hierarchy.”
This may be due to the reasons listed above, regarding costs, benefits, and functional load. Alternatively, it may be due to the possible nature of “language universals as products of cultural influence.” (Sampson 2009: 15)
Smaller communities = more agreement.
Grammaticalisation not necessarily a resulting pattern in early language change.
And what about multimodality?
“ Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” (Dobzhansky 1973)
Which is to say that it may be a valid living fossil of protolanguage, and that, especially if we view morphology as a workable contrastive system to syntax, and if we reconcile the syntacticians to the idea that morphology might be important…
… we might be able to state accurately that an overview of agreement in the light of language evolution and an overview of language evolution in the light of agreement is necessary and potentially illuminating.
Possible future work would include:
cross-linguistic first language agreement acquisition (specifically across families)
more studies into linguistic complexity involving speaking community size
branching into theoretical studies that look at morphology as equally important to syntax in protolanguage
simulations of morphological redundancy (which, computationally, may not be easy.)
Please ask questions.
Because I kind of need to breathe.
Disclaimer: One student was hurt in the making of this study.