[Lingtyp] Right node raising cross-linguistically

Adam James Ross Tallman ajrtallman at utexas.edu
Wed Sep 29 18:43:35 UTC 2021

Dear Adam,

I think you’ve missed the point and some other people did too, so I’ll
restate it.

Take the following sentences.

(1)   Adam read the book and skimmed the article

(2)   Adam read and Tony skimmed the article

Many (not all)syntacticians give radically different structural
interpretations to these sentences vis-à-vis constituency structure. If you
are the type of linguist who thinks you have to develop a theory of RNR, I
understand you are one of these syntacticians.

One sentence gets a *constituency coordination *interpretation, the
other a *gapping

Here’s a constituency coordination interpretation - under this
interpretation the structurally repeated part is a constituent. Imagine
giving such an interpretation to both sentences.

(3)   Adam [ read the book ] and [ skimmed the article ]

(4)   [ Adam read ] and [ Tony skimmed ] the article

Here’s the gapping interpretation of the same sentences.

(1)   Adam*i* read the book and _____*i* skimmed the article

(2)   Adam read _____*i* and Tony skimmed the article*i*

Under the gapping interpretation we either have to say there’s some sort of
movement (and thus the gapped part is a constituent) or there’s some sort
of deletion (maybe its phonological), or as Larson has argued
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/stul.12060> the sentence is
actually nongrammatical and some sort of special online parsing sentence
repair mechanism accounts for its acceptability. Either way, the
interpretation is different vis-à-vis constituent structure.

(3)   Adam*i* read the book and _____*i* skimmed the article

(4)   Adam read _____*i* and Tony skimmed the article*i*

(Many) syntacticians give sentence (1) the constituent coordination
interpretation in (3), and sentence (2) the gapping interpretation in (6).
They *don't *assign both interpretations to the sentences as I have here.

After this all sorts of formal models can be conjured up to capture the
facts as we see them - and it's difficult to do and the papers trying to do
so uncover interesting facts, some of the models are clever etc. But I’m
not saying “formal models are bad”, which seems to be Adam’s interpretation
of my claim. I also didn’t mean ‘syntactic theory’ in the sense of *any
formal model whatsoever*, which again, seems to be Adam’s interpretation of
my statement. I meant ‘syntactic theory’ in the sense of developing
testable hypotheses about what all languages are like. If you want to have
testable hypotheses you have to know what your models are actually supposed
to explain. Your models have to be independent from the phenomena they
capture, otherwise you have a tautology, not a theory.

So, I’m just asking first …

(5)   *Why *should (1) and (2) be interpreted differently?

The answer to (7) seems to be that *not *interpreting these differently
would result in a bracketing paradox vis-à-vis what we already think we
know about English and that constituents are always perfectly nested. But
what if I have fewer pieces of evidence for supporting a V-OBJ constituency
in a specific language? So I’m wondering if there is something else I could
rely on … and whether anyone could bring typological evidence to bear on
the question.

The other related question is as follows.

(6)   How do I tell the difference between gapping and constituent
coordination *in general? *

If I can’t tell the difference between constituent coordination and
gapping, then I suppose I could never use (co(sub))ordination structures as
constituency tests. If I can’t tell the difference between constituent
coordination and gapping then I would never be able to meaningfully test
any claim about how gapping is supposed to work or coordination is supposed
to work cross-linguistically. Sa, I’m interested in testing some claims
about gapping/RNR phenomena in Tupari or Chácobo, how do I start? How do I
know that what I refer to as gapping isn’t constituent coordination and

So, it's not about formalisms *in general.* It's about how to formulate
claims about gapping / constituent coordination so they aren’t self-sealing
/ self-justifying tautologies. Somewhere along the line you will have to
say something about how to compare languages, whether you use the term
„comparative concept“ or not. (Unless of course, you are fine with having
just a theory about English.) But I'm interested in how to interpret
gapping / constituent coordination in same/different subject clauses in
Pano, and the current literature is *just. simply. not. helpful. *for that
question ...

Of course, this assumes that what we call “theories” *should *make testable
claims, and maybe that’s where the disagreement lies between myself and
confessional “generativists” … If you are happy with a "theory" that states
"some gapping theory accounts for gapping phenomena and we identify gapping
phenomena as such because it is what is predicted from gapping theory",
then we have different views of what a theory is...



On Wed, Sep 29, 2021 at 6:24 PM Adam Singerman <adamsingerman at uchicago.edu>

> Dear Adam,
> I don't believe that the RNR issue is as damning for syntactic theory
> as you do (this shouldn't surprise anyone who's talked with the both
> of us, as we generally have different takes on the successes/failures
> of syntactic theory). On the contrary, I think the RNR issue nicely
> illustrates the fact that there will be empirical generalizations in
> individual languages that require some kind of formalization to be
> stated in the first place, whatever the ultimate verdict is on the
> formal apparatus that the generalizations are first couched in. Even
> if we take Chaves's analysis as correct (namely, that RNR is really
> the conflation of three separate phenomena: VP/N' deletion,
> extraposition, backward periphery deletion), we will still need a
> formal apparatus to define these phenomena. A formal syntactician
> would probably say that the crosslinguistic version of RNR is not
> capturable as a comparative concept in the sense of Haspelmath because
> what defines RNR — whether it's taken to be a phenomenon in of itself
> or a conflation of three separate phenomena, as Chaves argues — is
> still ultimately formal. So this is probably a good example of how
> there are parts of speakers' linguistic competence which need to be
> described, analyzed and theorized, but which do not lend themselves in
> an obvious way to cross-linguistic comparison outside of a formal
> framework. Unless of course I have misunderstood Martin's point about
> comparative concepts...?
> Abraços,
> Adam
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Adam J.R. Tallman
Post-doctoral Researcher
Friedrich Schiller Universität
Department of English Studies
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