[Lingtyp] homeostatic property clusters

Adam Singerman adamsingerman at uchicago.edu
Wed Feb 10 22:28:15 UTC 2021

Dear all,

Sorry in advance for the long message. I'm not sure how many
subscribers to this list are like me in being broadly sympathetic to
both the typological approach and the generative approach, without
ever feeling fully satisfied by either. But I'd just like to respond
to some of Martin's comments, which I don't feel do complete justice
to how many generative grammarians view their approach. (Martin, maybe
this message of mine can serve as a response to your 2018 blogpost
critiquing the syntax chapter of my dissertation, which I meant to
reply to but never did!)

Let me say, at the outset, that in my view generative grammar isn't
just Minimalism and its immediate ancestors but also includes a bunch
of alternative/competing formalisms that have been developed over the
past few decades, ranging from Lexical Functional Grammar and
Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar to Combinatory Categorial Grammar
and Tree Adjoining Grammar.

Re: labels like vP and CP, I think the former at this point is better
defined than the latter. vP should be thought of as where the thematic
relationships between the predicate and its arguments are established.
Here "arguments" don't translate directly into the traditional notions
of subject and object, which don't survive as intact notions (as far
as I can tell) for either functional-typologists or generative
grammarians, but rather onto structurally defined positions: internal
argument as the sister of the verbal root, external arguments
introduced slightly higher up in the structure, etc. A fair amount of
generative work has gone toward figuring out how well these
*structurally defined positions* map onto more traditional grammatical
categories, without assuming a clear correspondence between them. And
CP was originally proposed in the 80s, if I am not mistaken, as an
endocentric solution to the puzzle of the category S, which was
intuitively rather than structurally defined and which was exocentric.
Subsequent research has complicated the idea of CP since many
different proposals have been offered about how fine-grained the
structure of these "Complementizer Phrases" could become, but I don't
see how that process of fine-tuning the CP (or the "fine left
periphery," as it's sometimes called, following Rizzi) is in principle
all that different from what typologists do when they realize that
some kind of general correlation that used to be seen as unitary needs
to be further decomposed.

As someone whose research focuses on a non-Indo-European language
(Tuparí, iso code tpr) with grammatical categories rather different
than the ones I'm used to from more familiar languages, I am *very
sympathetic* to the view that generative grammar as a field of inquiry
needs to pay much more attention to what it's assuming in terms of
crosslinguistic comparability. This is why I think the biggest
successes to come out of generative grammar (which, again, I take to
include not only Minimalism and GB but also LFG, HPSG, GPSG, CCG, TAG)
have to do with figuring out issues related to locality: it's not hard
to find evidence that something has been displaced, but how can this
intuitive idea of displacement be defined and constrained? In his
e-mail, Martin referred to the "extremely complex movement operations"
of generative syntax, but I don't think this is fair. In formalized
Minimalism the movement operations are actually NOT complex. Rather,
they're well-defined and apply locally. What can look superficially
complex at times is that movement is an iterable operation. This is
the key idea behind analyses of what's been termed "successive
cyclicity," where it looks as if something that shows up in the matrix
clause (often a content interrogative word or phrase) is interpreted
thematically in a lower clause. This is also the case for what's been
called raising. So I would dispute the characterization of these
movement operations as complex. Of course, movement can be invoked
inappropriately / without sufficient empirical support, in which case
we would say that the analysis is weak; but I don't see how this is
different, in principle, from phonological rules that are invoked
without sufficient support.

There are also ways to formalize "movement" in ways that don't
actually invoke movement, or at least, don't invoke it to the same
extent as mainstream Minimalist analyses do — this is where other
formalisms, like Tree Adjoining Grammar and Combinatory Categorial
Grammar, really shine in my opinion. The most interesting findings
from the generative tradition, broadly construed, have to do with how
to best categorize surface displacement in a computationally tractable
way. Formalisms that succeed on this front (like TAG and CCG) don't
say anything about a lot of grammatical issues that fieldworkers like
myself face when dealing with raw data — but they're not designed to
do that, anymore than the grammaticalization literature is designed to
deal with successive cyclicity. I wish more extensive cross-linguistic
work were done in TAG and CCG because I see a lot of underexplored
potential there, but the nature of our field is that different
formalisms get developed by different groups of researchers who tend
to focus only on particular languages, blah blah blah...

Finally, just as I don't think it would be appropriate to lump all
historical linguists together or all functional-typologists together,
the generative world is internally very diverse and full of
disagreement. In my view much of the least interesting (and,
empirically, least defensible) stuff to come out of the generative
tradition is crummy precisely because it doesn't bother to contend
with basic typological variation. But there are plenty of generative
grammarians who do careful, detailed work on very non-SAE languages
and are quite dedicated to being honest to their data while also
trying to stay internally consistent in their theorizing. In the end,
I don't think Martin's dichotomy — between trying to understand
generative grammar and trying to understand languages — is
sustainable, because the best generative theorizing is based on a rich
empirical foundation, and detailed descriptions of individual
languages need to make reference to structural phenomena that we
understand (to the degree that we can say we understand them) thanks
at least in part to work that has come out of the generative

All the best,

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