cases of rule inversion in syntax?

Paolo Ramat paoram at
Wed Jun 6 14:20:48 UTC 2001

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Some comments (inserted in Holt's letter between <<  >>)

----- Original Message -----
From: "D. Eric Holt" <DEHolt01 at>
Sent: Tuesday, June 05, 2001 19:39
Subject: cases of rule inversion in syntax?

> ----------------------------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
> 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).
<< Why should this  overapplication of the present tense paradigm qualify as
'inversion'? It is not clear to me what is meant by 'inversion'. The same
holds also for the previous Engl. ex. *who/whom*: see Sapir, Language. We
could perhaps speak of inversion in the case we had *whom* in subject
position and *who* in object/oblique position. But this is not the case, I

 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?
<< Again: we have many instances of syntactic uses of the indicative pro
subjunctive:  substandard Ital. *credo che e' bene* instead of *credo che
sia bene*, as in French and Span., where the indicat. has become the
unmarked use. But also in this case I would  just speak  of overextension of
the indic. and not of rule inversion. The process might eventually end up
with a rule loss, if all dependent clauses wouldn't use the subjunctive any
longer (see the ex. of non-inversion in interr. sentences quoted below from
Caribbean Span.>>
> 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.
> Regards,
> Eric Holt
> References:
> 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
> 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

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