Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Mark Steedman (Informatics, University of Edinburgh)

Title: Combinatory Universal Grammar

Abstract: Greenberg proposed as his 20th Universal a generalization about the possible language-specific orders over the elements of the noun-phrase (NP). Greenberg's original statement has been modified a number of times, and a number of attempts have been made to explain its various reformulations in terms of "constraints on movement" of those elements within a single primary ordering corresponding to a universal order of merger or dominance, defined ultimately by their semantic types.

The present paper begins by proposing a new generalization concerning the orderings allowed over the elements of the NP in rigid and more freely ordered languages. This generalization can be parsimoniously captured in a theory of grammar without movement or other syntactic "action-at-a-distance" between non-contiguous elements. This theory predicts that only two of the twenty four permutations over these four elements are universally excluded. This prediction constitutes a formal universal, in that it follows from the theory of grammar itself, and appears to be both qualitatively and statistically confirmed by the data. The paper goes on to show that the same generalization appears to hold over a number of cases of order alternations in clausal serial-verb constructions in a number of languages.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Svenja Wagner

Centre for Language Evolution

May 15 2018 -

Language evolution seminar

2018-05-15: Combinatory Universal Grammar

Room 3.10, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD