[FUNKNET] Query on structural properties

Joan Bybee jbybee at UNM.EDU
Sat Dec 19 00:03:06 UTC 2009

I think Tom is correct that some languages take grammaticalization 
further than others, and this applies to both form and meaning (as shown 
in The evolution of language 1994 Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca). Our data 
suggest not that this is just where a language is on the cycle, but 
rather that it can be a stable feature of a language. Otherwise all 
languages would have structures at all stages of grammaticalization. 
Instead, what happens in languages that do not grammaticalize enough to 
reach the stage of inflection is that newly grammaticalizing structures 
take over and replace the maturing ones before they get a chance to go 
too far. I suspect that this is related to a cultural/discourse 
phenomenon--the type of inferences a speaker/hearer makes in 
conversation. This is articulated in my paper in Essays on Language 
Function and Language Type: Dedicted to T. Givon (1997). See also 
discussion on southeast Asian languages by Walter. Bisang.

Dan Everett should also look at R. Perkins Grammar, Deixis and Culture 
1992 for a methodologically excellent study of the relation between 
certain cultural features and grammar.

Joan Bybee

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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