Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

NP recursion over time: evidence from indo-european


Widmer, Manuel; Auderset, Sandra; Nichols, Johanna; Widmer, Paul; Bickel, Balthasar (2017). NP recursion over time: evidence from indo-european. Language, 93(4):799-826.

Abstract

Some languages constrain the recursive embedding of NPs to some specific morphosyntactic types, allowing it, for example, only with genitives but not with bare juxtaposition. In Indo-European, every type of NP embedding—genitives, adjectivizers, adpositions, head marking, or juxtaposition—is unavailable for syntactic recursion in at least one attested language. In addition, attested pathways of change show that NP types that allow recursion can emerge and disappear in less than 1,000 years. This wide-ranging synchronic diversity and its high diachronic dynamics raise the possibility that at many hypothetical times in the history of the family recursive NP embedding could have been lost for all types simultaneously, parallel to what has occasionally been observed elsewhere (Everett 2005, Evans & Levinson 2009).

Performing Bayesian phylogenetic analyses on a sample of fifty-five languages from all branches of Indo-European, we show, however, that it is extremely unlikely for such a complete loss to ever have occurred. When one or more morphosyntactic types become unavailable for syntactic recursion in an NP, an unconstrained alternative type is very likely to develop in the same language. This suggests that, while diachronic pathways away from NP recursion clearly exist, there is a tendency—perhaps a universal one—to maintain or develop syntactic recursion in NPs. A likely explanation for this evolutionary bias is that recursively embedded phrases are not just an option that languages have (Fitch et al. 2005), but they are in fact preferred by our processing system.

Abstract

Some languages constrain the recursive embedding of NPs to some specific morphosyntactic types, allowing it, for example, only with genitives but not with bare juxtaposition. In Indo-European, every type of NP embedding—genitives, adjectivizers, adpositions, head marking, or juxtaposition—is unavailable for syntactic recursion in at least one attested language. In addition, attested pathways of change show that NP types that allow recursion can emerge and disappear in less than 1,000 years. This wide-ranging synchronic diversity and its high diachronic dynamics raise the possibility that at many hypothetical times in the history of the family recursive NP embedding could have been lost for all types simultaneously, parallel to what has occasionally been observed elsewhere (Everett 2005, Evans & Levinson 2009).

Performing Bayesian phylogenetic analyses on a sample of fifty-five languages from all branches of Indo-European, we show, however, that it is extremely unlikely for such a complete loss to ever have occurred. When one or more morphosyntactic types become unavailable for syntactic recursion in an NP, an unconstrained alternative type is very likely to develop in the same language. This suggests that, while diachronic pathways away from NP recursion clearly exist, there is a tendency—perhaps a universal one—to maintain or develop syntactic recursion in NPs. A likely explanation for this evolutionary bias is that recursively embedded phrases are not just an option that languages have (Fitch et al. 2005), but they are in fact preferred by our processing system.

Statistics

Citations

Dimensions.ai Metrics
18 citations in Web of Science®
20 citations in Scopus®
Google Scholar™

Altmetrics

Downloads

221 downloads since deposited on 30 Jan 2018
13 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Language Science
06 Faculty of Arts > Zurich Center for Linguistics
08 Research Priority Programs > Language and Space
08 Research Priority Programs > Evolution in Action: From Genomes to Ecosystems
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Language and Linguistics
Social Sciences & Humanities > Linguistics and Language
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:30 Jan 2018 17:07
Last Modified:18 Apr 2024 01:46
Publisher:Linguistic Society of America
ISSN:0097-8507
Funders:Dean's Office, Philosophical Faculty, University of Zurich
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2017.0058
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English