[FUNKNET] Query on structural properties

Daniel Everett dlevere at ILSTU.EDU
Fri Dec 18 17:01:51 UTC 2009

I think Paul is right about this. I wouldn't use the term 'primitive' however, unless there were a well-worked out theory of the evolution of linguistic structure. Even then, such a theory would need to include discourse - quite a tall order. At the level of discourse Piraha, to take a random example, has plenty of recursion. Theories which explicitly attempt to account for discourse will not be surprised at the existence of such 'continua', as Paul puts it. Only syntactocentric theories would be, I think.

But my inchoate program is to look at specific structural markers. (Not the semantics. Of course the lack of an epistemic verb in a language would have nothing to say at all about whether the language can express epistemic concepts, etc.) How common/rare are some (or their absence)? Do some absences cluster together? (That is a *very* hard one to establish, clearly.) Can these be tested psycholinguistically, via corpora, etc? Lots of questions that interest me.

Of course, a culture or language could lack all of the things just mentioned at one level and have them at another. That is part of the program.

If anyone on the other side of the pond wants to flame me, you will have your chance to do so in person in February at the German Linguistic Society meetings in Berlin where I will be talking (one of the four plenary lectures) on culture and language. But just use words, OK? No bricks, etc. 

Love & Peace,


On 18 Dec 2009, at 11:04, 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 ___'
> -- 
> Prof. Dr. Paul J. Hopper
> Senior Fellow
> Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
> Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
> Albertstr. 19
> D-79104 Freiburg
> and
> Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
> Department of English
> Carnegie Mellon University
> Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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