[Lingtyp] 'basic word order' in the MP

Nigel Vincent nigel.vincent at manchester.ac.uk
Thu Mar 24 08:55:46 UTC 2016

I guess mention should be made too of Kayne's antisymmetry hypothesis, which was developed about the same time as the MP and which makes a clear presumption about which order is to be taken as basic within UG. Other orders have to be derived by movement.

Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA MAE
Professor Emeritus of General & Romance Linguistics
The University of Manchester

Linguistics & English Language
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
The University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL

From: Lingtyp [lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] on behalf of Kilu von Prince [watasenia at gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:30 AM
To: fjn at uw.edu
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] 'basic word order' in the MP

Hi Fritz,

I think you are right, the MP does not really tell us much about the order of heads relative to their complements, but I think it does make some predictions about word order in general. For example, an order of VSO, where the verb and the object are separated by another constituent should have to involve more movement than an order of, for example, VOS and should therefore be more marked and typologically less frequent. This prediction is not borne out by the typological data in WALS and I'm not aware of any commentary on this.

Having said that, the MP is by no means the favourite framework among generative syntactitians. Principles and Parameters are still quite popular and my impression is that many generative syntactitians who care about typology at all favour the asymmetry hypothesis, which is based on G&B. For recent contributions in that area, see Hubert Haider's work on head directionality. This approach was essentially inspired by typological word-order distributions and does a decent job of addressing them.


On Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 9:56 PM, David Beck <dbeck at ualberta.ca<mailto:dbeck at ualberta.ca>> wrote:
Hi, Fritz

I haven’t really been tracking the theory much since the late ‘90s, but I’m not sure that it is true that linearization does “take place” at PF, since a tremendous amount of argumentation (pretty much all of it) in this syntactic framework still depends on moving things around in the syntactic tree (which I always understood to be pre-PF) to get the surface order. So even though X-bar is offically gone, most of the papers I see still use the same assumptions about binary branching and head-complement ordering at D-structure, and use the same kind of movement rules (I guess it’s only one kind these days, but it does pretty much the same job). These papers generally argue for a particular phrase being moved or not in the syntactic tree based on where it is linearized in the sentence.

But even if the final tree-structure before Spell-Out reflects the linear order of the sentence, I think that your point is correct, ‘basic order’ isn’t going to be a very coherent or clearly defined concept, since surface-order is going to be determined on a construction-specific basis (depending on which heads have to move to check which phi-features, what barriers there are in a given construction to the movements, which landing sites are available, etc.). So Irish is VSO in a certain type of clause because the requirements for feature-checking move V ahead of S, and that movement might be blocked in another type of clause where the conditions are different, or other conditions might move-S ahead of V in another construction, etc. I would guess that the only way to postulate a “basic” order for the language would be to talk in terms of the order that requires the fewest movements, or requires the fewest “special” conditions regulating movement (which is kind of the way everyone else does it, too).


> On Mar 23, 2016, at 1:47 PM, fjn at uw.edu<mailto:fjn at uw.edu> wrote:
> Dear Lingtyp,
> I’m not sure how many formal linguists read this list, but some of you might have thought about this issue or have seen a reference. Do you know if anybody has taken on the question of 'basic word order' (VSO, OSV, etc.) within the Minimalist Program? It is not obvious that it is still a coherent notion. Given the abandonment of the level of D-structure and of X-bar theory and given that it is generally assumed (right?) that linearization takes place in PF, there is no obvious level or stage in the grammar that would identify Irish as VSO, Japanese as SOV, etc. While the mechanics of PF-syntax (at least to me) are quite murky, it seems like you would have to introduce something like extrinsic ordering in that component to postulate a 'basic order' for a particular language. For a language with only one ordering of S, O and V there is no issue, but every language, I think, allows more than one ordering.
> Any thoughts on all of this?
> Thanks,
> —fritz
> Frederick J. Newmeyer
> Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor, U of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U
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