long-distance control

Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu
Wed Dec 23 15:56:14 UTC 2009

Dear FUNK people,

I thought maybe just a short reply to one item in Dan's summary might be 

An important principle known to all of us, certainly to Dan, is that 
different languages perform the same (or similar) communicative 
functions by different structural means. This has been, at least to my 
understanding, the very gist of cross-language grammatical typology. 
Now, if we restrict our discussion of "long distance relations" to only 
those found in sentence-level (i.e. complex-clause-level) constructions, 
we devalue this principle in two important ways.

First synchronically: Languages in which V-complements and REL-clauses 
are still handles paratactically by fiat then "lack long-distance 
relations". They perform the same communicative functions, observe the 
same long-distance government-and-control constrains, but across 
adjacent paratactic chunks (clause-chains). So the study of 
government-and-control would be deprived of important typological data, 
which are "outside the pale". This is precisely how Chomsky could 
possibly view "pro-drop" as typologically weird subtraction of grammar, 
rather than as what it really is: the most natural & wide-spread 
communicative device in human (and non-human) communication.

Second and (to me) more important--diachronically: As far as I can see, 
all syntactically-complex constructions are diachronic condensations of 
paratactic constructions that perform the same communicative 
function--albeit more ambiguously. Two chapters in my "Genesis of 
Syntactic Complexity"(2009, chs 4, 5) document these processes 
exhaustively for diachrony, and two others (chs 8,9) for child language. 
Marianne Mithun's recent work on the early stage of this process of 
"condensation"--merger of intonation contours (combined with changes in 
world-level intonation, most commonly de-stressing) is particularly 
relevant here. What many works on this topic show, I think, is that the 
change from parataxis to syntaxis in the genesis of complex syntactic 
construction is gradual and often subtle. So that following Dan's 
implicit distinction between "sentence level syntax" and 
discourse/clause-chaining is not going to be all that easy. But more to 
the point--is it going to be desirable? Illuminating?  As Paul  Hopper 
noted in his early response to Dan, the usage frequency difference is 
often no more than, say, 95% vs. 100%. To give an example: The use of 
zero-anaphora subject in clause-chained discourse is predictable at the 
95% level (co-referent found in adjacent clause). In REL-clauses & 
(equi-subject) V-complements it is 100%. So while we try to understand 
(communicatively, cognitively, neurologically, whatever) why 100% 
predictability of syntacticized constructions is important (i.e. 
adaptive)--that is, what is the sadaptive impetus for the rise of 
morpho-syntax?-- it would be counter-productive to draw the kind of 
hard-&-fast distinction that Dan would have us draw.

Best,  TG

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