cases of rule inversion in syntax?

D. Eric Holt DEHolt01 at
Tue Jun 5 17:39:32 UTC 2001

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Dear colleagues,

In discussing the various types of modifications rules (and the rule component) may undergo (addition, loss, reordering, inversion), examples are usually drawn from phonology. Examples from syntax are not usually cited, so I'm wondering if anyone on the list might have come across examples, specifically of rule inversion, especially ones in the published literature.

Some examples that may qualify are the following (but they're really morphosyntactic):

May perhaps be exemplified by cases of morpho-syntactic hypercorrection (though not all hypercorrections involve rule inversion, and vice versa), as in the nonstandard overuse in English of whom (presumably by overapplication/reanalysis of a rule of objective case assignment), and perhaps the extension (overgeneralization) of second person singular -s in nonstandard Spanish to the preterit forms (e.g., comistes 'you ate', like present tense comes, vs. standard comiste). A perhaps clearer case of inversion, a morphological one that has been completed, is that of the indefinite article in English (a ~ an): originally there was a nasal deletion rule that applied before consonants (e.g., an car > a car), but now the underlying form is a with nasal insertion before words that begin with a vowel (e.g., a car, but an orange).

Are there any clearly syntactic cases, rather than morphosyntactic ones?

Other types of rule change may be exemplified via the following:

A case of rule addition in syntax may be taken from Early Irish (see Disterheft 1997), where an innovation introduced the infinitive as a distinct category and which gave rise to a series of Raising structures, whereby both subject and object may move from the embedded clause to become matrix subject, object or object of preposition (p. 129). 

A case of rule loss in syntax may be that of Caribbean Spanish, where, in contrast to the international standard, subjects and verbs are not inverted in question formation (e.g., ¿Cómo tú te llamas? 'What is your name?', rather than standard ¿Cómo te llamas tú?) 

A case of rule reordering in the syntactic component, as argued in Klima (1964; presented in McMahon, § is that of the distribution of who and whom in English, where, in some varieties speakers say Who did John give it to? (in contrast to earlier Whom did John give it to?) but To whom did John give it? Klima analyzes this as a reordering of the transformations of Wh-Movement and Case-Marking. 

I would welcome your thoughts on these. 

I'll post a summary of responses if there are sufficient responses.

Eric Holt


Disterheft, Dorothy. 1997. Syntactic innovation in Early Irish. In Ahlqvist, Anders and Vera Capková, eds., Dán do Oide: Essays in Memory of Conn R. Ó Cléirgh. Dublin: Institiúid Tengeolaíochta Éireann. 123-133.

Klima, E.S. 1964. Relatedness between grammatical systems. Language 40.1-20.

McMahon, April. 1994. Understanding Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

D. Eric Holt
Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese and
Linguistics Program
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
(803) 777-0798 (office) (803) 777-4884 (messages)
(803) 777-7828 (fax)     
holt at

More information about the Histling mailing list