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During several decades, syntactic reconstruction has been more or less regarded as a bootless and an unsuccessful venture, not least due to the heavy criticism in the 1970s from scholars like Watkins, Jeffers, Lightfoot, etc. This fallacious view culminated in Lightfoot’s (2002: 625) conclusion: “[i]f somebody thinks that they can reconstruct grammars more successfully and in more widespread fashion, let them tell us their methods and show us their results. Then we’ll eat the pudding.” This volume provides methods for the identification of i) cognates in syntax, and ii) the directionality of syntactic change, showcasing the results in the introduction and eight articles. These examples are offered as both tastier and also more nourishing than the pudding Lightfoot had in mind when discarding the viability of reconstructing syntax.
In: Reconstructing Syntax

Abstract

This article focuses on the methodology for syntactic reconstruction in languages without a written record from the past. The idea is to follow the principles of the Comparative Method, the scientific procedure to compare and reconstruct sounds and lexical items in various proto-languages. The method originally developed out of the comparison and reconstruction of classic languages in Indo-European languages, but has been successfully applied to Austronesian languages, where information about old forms of languages is hardly available from literature. The claim in this article is that there are ways to conduct syntactic reconstruction with languages without a written record. It is shown that, by using correct comparanda and by combining structural analyses with results of sound and lexical reconstruction, clause structures of such languages can be compared and reconstructed, and the developmental paths from one system to another can be traced.

In: Reconstructing Syntax

Abstract

The general consensus in the historical linguistics community for the last half a century or so has been that syntactic reconstruction is a bootless and unsuccessful venture. However, this view has slowly but steadily been changing among historical linguists, typologists, and anthropological linguists alike. More and more syntactic reconstructions are being published by respectable and virtuous publication venues. The debate on the viability of syntactic reconstruction, however, continues, and issues like i) lack of cognates, ii) lack of arbitrariness in syntax, iii) lack of directionality in syntactic change, iv) lack of continuous transmission from one generation to the next, and v) lack of form–meaning correspondences have, drop by drop, been argued not to be problematic for syntactic reconstruction. The present volume contributes to two of these issues in detail; first the issue of reliably identifying cognates in syntax and second, the issue of directionality in syntactic change. A systematic program is suggested for identifying cognates in syntax, which by definition is a different enterprise from identifying cognates in phonology or morphology. Examples are given from several different language families: Indo-European, Semitic, Austronesian, Jê, Cariban, and Chibchan. Regarding the issue of directionality for syntactic reconstruction, most of the studies in this volume also demonstrate how local directionality may be identified with the aid of different types of morphosyntactic flags, particularly showcased with examples from Chibchan, Semitic, and various Indo-European languages.

In: Reconstructing Syntax
In: Reconstructing Syntax
Author: Silvia Luraghi

Abstract

Two external possessor constructions occur in ancient Indo-European languages: the dative external possessor construction, and the double case construction. They both indicate adnominal possession by means of syntactically independent NPs, and basically refer to inalienable possession. In this article, I analyze the two constructions, describe their meaning and their syntactic properties, and review the comparative evidence for each of them. Neither construction is uniformly attested throughout the Indo-European language family. In addition, the dative external possessor construction seems to be quite unstable over time. Based on the data presented, I conclude that the former can be reconstructed as an original Proto-Indo-European construction, while the latter must be regarded as a language specific construction, with different properties in the languages in which it occurs.

In: Reconstructing Syntax

Abstract

As a reaction to three different proposals on how to reconstruct basic word order for Proto-Indo-European, Watkins and his contemporaries in the 1970s succeeded in aborting any attempt at reconstructing syntax for a long time to come. As a consequence, syntactic reconstruction has generally been abandoned, regarded as a doomed enterprise by historical linguists for several different reasons, one of which is the alleged difficulty in identifying cognates in syntax. Later, Watkins (1995) proposed a research program aimed at reconstructing larger units of grammar, including syntactic structures, by means of identifying morphological flags that are parts of larger syntactic entities. As a response to this, we show how cognate argument structure constructions may be identified, through a) cognate lexical verbs, b) cognate case frames, c) cognate predicate structure and d) cognate case morphology. We then propose to advance Watkins’ program, by identifying cognate argument structure constructions with the aid of non-cognate, but synonymous, lexical predicates. As a consequence, it will not only be possible to identify cognate argument structure constructions across a deeper time span, it will also be possible to carry out semantic reconstruction on the basis of lexical-semantic verb classes.

In: Reconstructing Syntax
Author: Na’ama Pat-El

Abstract

The Semitic languages share the same pattern for adverbial subordination, but they do not share cognate subordinators. Following widely accepted approaches to syntactic reconstruction, such as Harris & Campbell (1995), it is possible to reconstruct a proto construction for this family, even without cognate material. However, in this article I argue that adverbial subordination cannot be reconstructed to the proto language and the shared structure is a case of parallel development which was motivated by influence from a type of relative clause. I suggest that parallel development was triggered by the presence of a shared structural feature, which created similar pressures in different nodes and allowed for identical lines of development to take place, but nevertheless yielded distinct outcomes. The development of adverbial subordinators as outlined here shows that despite structural similarities in adverbial subordination among the Semitic languages, it is unlikely that this pattern is reconstructable to the proto language.

In: Reconstructing Syntax
In: Reconstructing Syntax

Abstract

Traditional approaches to the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European nominal morphosyntax have operated by first reconstructing the set of morphological cases for every declensional type, and then attempting to establish the meaning of the different cases, regardless of the specific ending that was used for each declensional type. However, more insight can be gained into the reconstruction of the nominal syntax of proto-languages by applying the concepts and methodologies developed in recent years in functional-typological approaches to language study. Under this approach, the aim of syntactic reconstruction in the nominal domain lies not in determining the meaning of a given case as a whole but rather in elucidating the semantic role(s) that a specific formative could be used for and, to the extent that this is possible, how those semantic roles relate to each other in historical terms. In this article we survey the semantic roles related to *-bhi-endings in the old Indo-European languages. In the traditional reconstruction, *-bhi has been considered the suffix expressing the Instrumental plural of the athematic declension. However, in the various branches of the family in which it is attested, *-bhi-endings express a broad array of semantic roles. When charted on a diachronic semantic map of Instrument and related semantic roles, the *-bhi-endings appear to cover neighbouring areas, and it becomes clear that they have followed well-known paths of semantic change. If we add the information about *-bhi in the pronominal declension and its etymology, a neat grammaticalisation process is revealed. This results in a ‘dynamic’ reconstruction of the morphosyntax of the proto-language, which is more in accord with what we know about the actual processes of semantic change in grammatical markers and paradigmatisation of markers more generally.

In: Reconstructing Syntax