Query on structural properties

Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu
Fri Dec 18 23:06:34 UTC 2009

Dan's agenda, if I understand it, has been to find correlations between 
grammar & culture. Whorf re-heated? I would rather look at it as a 
matter of Degree of Grammaticalization, where one could factor it into 
two dimensions.

First, as pointed out by Paul, at the frequency distribution level 
spoken language is always less grammaticalized than written language. 
Two old papers (Keenan/Ochs & T. Bennett 1977; Givon 1979) made this 
point. I my own article (also a chapter in OUG 1979), I suggested that 
spoken language is more pidgin-like, i.e. less grammaticalized. Since 
written language is a superficial artifact piggy-backed on the real 
thing, one may say that what riled Dan against Chomskian universals was 
really that they have always been based on well-planned (written) 
language, and Dan was dealing with a real language.

The other dimension is cross-language typological--qand thus ultimately 
diachronic.  Li and Thompson (1976) in a paper on topic-prominent 
languages (vs. subject-prominent ones) stumbled into this tho didn't 
quite know how to digest it. But what they described was a dimention of 
grammaticalization. And they were looking at serial-verb languages, 
which (at least at some stage of their diachrony) are notoriously 
under-grammaticalized. Indeed, Charles Li was suggesting at the time (in 
private comm.) that Chinese was a pidgin language. My own view at the 
time (and still now) was that he was looking only at written Chinese, 
and that the Spoken language had already gone 2,500 years worth of 
granmmaticalization. Still, for each area (functional domain) of 
grammar, one could find languages that are under-grammaticalize. But 
this simply means that they are at a low point on the diachronic cycle. 
And Marianne Mithun (2009 and earlier papers) has recently shown that if 
you look very carefully, you can see early stages of grammaticalization 
in the intonation packaging (in her case, Iroquois subordinate clauses). 
So cross language differences often boil down to where in the 
grammaticalization cycle a language--or particular grammar-coded domains 
within it--is/are.

Coming back to Dan's cross-cultural obsession, my question to him would 
be (well, has been...): Ute is as much the product of a small, intimate, 
isolated, stone-age society as Pirha. So how come Ute, compared to his 
description of Piraha, is over-grammaticalized to the max? And, how come 
within a single Ute domain (passives) I can find at least two successive 
grammaticalization cycles--during a period where there was no cultural 
change? Could it be that Piraha had undergone a relatively-recent 
pidginization cycle prior to meeting Dan? In the Chinese contact area 
Charles Li talked about, such pidginization (prior to Archaeic Chinese) 
has certainly has certainly been documented.

Merry Christmass to y'all,  TG


Paul Hopper wrote:
> Dear Typologists and Funknetters,
> It's interesting that many of the items on Dan's list would be good
> quantitative characterizations of conversational English; they would be
> statistical but not grammatical constraints. Dan's project might be
> formulated as: How far along this continuum is it possible for a language
> to go? (Is Spoken English a 'primitive' language?)
> We learned last year in Funknet how a single angry "flame" can torpedo a
> discussion group--Funknet has been basically quiescent for several months
> now. A pity. The best way to deal with a flame is to ignore it.
> - Paul
> On Fri, December 18, 2009 08:17, Daniel Everett wrote:
>> Folks,
>> I am interested in beginnng a statistical study on the relative rarity of
>> the following patterns (this query will not be the basis for the study!
>> Just a tool to start gathering data). I am first interested in knowing of
>> languages that have any one of the specific properties below.  Next I am
>> interested in learning of any languages that are described by any subset
>> of these. Please respond to me individually, rather than to the list as a
>> whole.  I will post a summary if there are enough responses. I would
>> particularly appreciate any suggestions for particular corpora to consult
>> in rarer languages.
>> Thanks very much in advance for your answers.
>> Dan
>> **
>> 1. The language lacks independent  factive verbs and epistemic verbs (not
>> counting the verb 'to see'). 2. The language has no morphosyntactic marker
>> of subordination. 3. It has no coordinating disjunctive particles (no
>> words like 'or'). 4. It has no coordinating conjunctive particle (no words
>> like 'and'). 5. No unambiguous complement clauses (no strong evidence for
>> embedding as opposed to juxtaposition). 6. No multiple possession (no
>> structures like 'John's father's son' - whether pre or postnominal) . 7.
>> No multiple modification (no structures like 'two big red apples').
>> 8. No scope from one clause into another: 'John does not believe you left'
>> (where 'not' can negate 'believe' or 'left', as in 'It is not the case
>> that John believes that you left' vs. 'It is the case that John believes
>> that you did not leave') 9. No long-distance dependencies:
>> 'Who do you think John believes __ (that Bill saw__)?'
>> 'Ann, I think he told me he tried to like ___'

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