Query on structural properties

Östen Dahl oesten at ling.su.se
Sat Dec 19 08:34:10 UTC 2009

Although Tom talks in his posting below about "under-grammaticalizing" in 
different domains of a language, it is still worth emphasizing that Pirahã is 
not at all pidgin-like. Languages that have "undergone a relatively-recent 
pidginization cycle" would be expected to have no or little inflectional 
morphology. Pirahã, on the other hand, has a rather complex morphology, 
especially with regard to verbs. The lack of grammaticalized subordinate 
constructions appears to be a different story. I do not know if there is 
evidence for a link to a pidginization cycle for that kind of phenomenon in any 

- Östen

On 2009-12-19, at 00:06, Tom Givon wrote:
> 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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