Semantic and formal features in language change. Elly van Gelderen DGfS, March 2012. Outline. 1 What are the Minimalist features? 2 How do they work in language change and why? 3 Where do features `come fromâ€™? 4 Possible future directions. The importance of features.
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Elly van Gelderen
DGfS, March 2012
1 What are the Minimalist features?
2 How do they work in language change and why?
3 Where do features `come from’?
4 Possible future directions.
Chomsky (1965: 87-88): lexicon contains information for the phonological, semantic, and syntactic component.
Sincerity +N, -Count, +Abstract...)
Chomsky (1995: 230ff; 236; 277ff):
semantic (e.g. abstract object),
phonological (e.g. the sounds),
and formal features:
intrinsic or optional.
Optional features are added arbitrarily and are predictable from linguistic Principles (e.g. nouns need Case or some kind of licensing). They include the tense and agreement features of verbs and the number and Case features of nouns.
semantic: e.g. [artifact] e.g. [action]
phonological: e.g. [begins with a vowel; e.g. [one syllable]
intrinsic optional intrinsic optional
[nominal] [number] [verbal] [phi]
[3 person] [Case] [assign accusative] [tense]
Formal features are: interpretable and uninterpretable
Interpr. [nominal] [verbal]
[3 person] [assign [non-human] accusative]
Uninterpr [Case] [phi]
Phonological features are accessed at PF, the semantic ones at LF, and the formal ones accessible in the NS, but semantic and formal “intersect”.
This intersection was not there in Chomsky (1965: 142) where semantic features are defined as not involved in the syntax.
The uninterpretable ones are valued and only survive to PF; the interpretable ones are relevant at LF.
many buffaloes V PP
[i-3] [i-P] are
in the room
A) Two-way, reciprocal: agreement [u-phi] and [u-Case].
B) just interpretable: Cinque’s features for modals and possibly [i-phi] in Pronominal Argument Languages.
C) One-way, non-reciprocal: [u-neg] and [i-neg]
So, `active’ is debatable as is the direction (see e.g. Baker 2008). Carstens (2012): “delayed valuation”: no (A).
Chomsky (1995: 230; 381) suggests: "formal features have semantic correlates and reflect semantic properties (accusative Case and transitivity, for example)."
I interpret this: If a language has nouns with semantic phi-features, the learner will be able to hypothesize uninterpretable features on another F (and will be able to bundle them there).
[i-ind] she T’
Two reasons: (a) analytic languages may not have uninterpretable features, and (b) in (much) language change, we can see all three at work.
Let’s therefore look at how these features work in change.
Full verbs such as Old English will with
[volition, expectation, future] features are reanalyzed as having only the feature [future] in Middle English.
And the negative
OE no/ne > ME (ne) not > -n’t
> ModE –n’t ... nothing, never, etc
(1) Ac nis nan scild trum[ra] wið ðæt ...
But NEG.is no shield stronger against the ...
`But there is no stronger shield against ...’
(2) ne ne helpeð nawiht eche lif to haben.
nor not helps not eternal life to have
`Nor does it help to have eternal life.’
(3) I can't do nothing for you either, Billy.
(4) No, I never see him these days
(BNC - A9H 350)
(1) Se je meïsme ne li di Old French
If I myself not him tell
`If I don’t tell him myself.’ (Franzén 1939:20, Cligès 993)
(2) a. Je lis et j'écris
I read and I-write
b. *Je lis et écris
I read and write
c. *Je probablement ai vu ça
I probably have seen that
I-have seen that
(4) tu vas où
2S go where
‘Where are you going?'
(5) Moi, je ....
me, I ...
(6) si un: un Russe i va en France Swiss
if a Russian il goes to France
‘If a Russian goes to France.’
(Fonseca-Greber 2000: 335)
Emphatic Regular Emphatic Regular
je/tu zero moi/toi je/tu
moi/toi me/te moi/toi me/te
noun > emphatic > pronoun > agreement > 0
[sem] [i-phi] [i-phi]/[u-phi] [u-phi]
Assume copulas have:
be remain seem
[i-loc] [i-loc] [i-loc]
Source for [loc]? Verbs and demonstratives
D > copula > zero
[i-loc] > [i-loc] > --
[i-phi] > [u-phi]
Old Chinese shi ‘this’
(1) fu yu gui shi ren Riches and honor this men
zhi suo yu ye
GEN NOM desire BE
‘Riches and honor, this is men’s desire.’
(2) Shi shi lie gui
this is violent ghost
‘This is a violent ghost.’
(3) Zhe shi lie gui
this BE violent ghost
‘This is a violent ghost.’
(4)Shi wo de cuo
be 1S POSS fault
‘It’s is me (who is) at fault.’
(1) a. rmt p-n man MS-PROX `this man.’
b. ntr-w jp-w
god-P MP-DIST `those gods.’
(2) ̩tmj-t pw jmn-t
city-F be west-F
`The West is a city.’
(Loprieno 1995; 2001)
(3) p -w > pw
[i-3MS] [i-distal] [i-loc]
The elephant that happy
TOPIC SU VP
SU copula VP
The question would be why first (or second) person pronouns are never reanalyzed as copulas since they are frequent topics.
(1) ðis gære for þe king Stephne ...
this year went the King ...
(2) monig oft gecwæð þæt te suð ne norð ... oþer ... selra nære
many often said that that south nor north, other better not-was
`It was often said that no better one could be found North or South.' (Beowulf 858)
(1) a. *That the dog loves their the toys.
b. I saw that.
c. *I saw the.
(2) DP DP
that D’ D NP
[i-loc] D NP the 3S
[i-ps] 3S [u-phi]
article complementizer (copula)
[u-phi] [u-T] [i-loc]
(1) Mi da i tatá Saramaccan
I be your father
‘I am your father.’ (McWhorter 1997)
Pesetsky & Torrego (2001): that is the spell-out of a T with interpretable tense features; the finite C has tense features that must be checked by either a nominative, by that, or by an auxiliary.
Two phenomena are explained: the optionality of that in English complement clauses (since either the subject DP or that can check [u-T] of C) and the that-trace effect in Modern English.
Problems: the lack of C-deletion in Old English and no `that-trace' effects. Van Gelderen (2011) argues that the lack of C-deletion is due to the interpretable features of C in the older period. As they are reanalyzed as uninterpretable, C becomes deletable.
(1) tu-ne id veritus es you-Q that fear be
`Did you fear that?’ (Greenough et al. 1931: 205)
Negatives value the [u-Q] of the PolP through their [i-neg]; “if the negative quality somehow weakens, it is reanalyzed as a PolP head whose polarity is not specified.” (van Gelderen 2011: 295).
The Minimalist program has shifted the emphasis from UG to third factors and from syntactic parameters to lexical ones, i.e. features. One of the reasons to deemphasize UG is the supposed lack of evolutionary depth.
Third factors, however, are vague and feature theory is not well-developed.
“(1) genetic endowment, which sets limits on the attainable languages, thereby making language acquisition possible; (2) external data, converted to the experience that selects one or another language within a narrow range; (3) principles not specific to FL [the Faculty of Language]. Some of the third factor principles have the flavor of the constraints that enter into all facets of growth and evolution.... Among these are principles of efficient computation”. (Chomsky 2007: 3)
Universal Grammar UG and Third factors
+ >> +
(Scottish English, Western Navajo, etc) = =
"All parameters of variation are attributable to differences in the features of particular items (e.g., the functional heads) in the lexicon." (Baker 2008: 156)
Muysken (2008: 6):
“I find the generative literature on functional categories rather vague.”
Benincà & Munaro (2010: 6-7) note that syntax has reached the detail of phonological features.
“The main task of feature theory, then, is to find the phonetic features which accurately describe the attested phonologically active classes in the world’s languages” (Samuels 2012: 4).
permissive, possibility, agent, comparative, material, partitive, past/near, A-possessive, since (temporal), superlative, complementizer, dative, infinitive, patient, purpose, temporal, until (temporal), only, NP-and, subordinator
Muysken (2008: 46): “features which are doubly expressed ... but receive a single interpretation, must be functional.”
Which feature can value which?
[u-phi] is easy, as long as it gets a value such as from i-3, i-P etc.
Chomsky (2001: 12):
“Assume that substantive categories are selected by functional categories. V by a light verb, T by C”.
Jackendoff (2002), based on Bickerton (1990), suggests that pre-linguistic primate conceptual structure may already use symbols for basic semantic relations. This may include spatial and causal concepts. “Agent First, Focus Last ... are `fossil principles’ from protolanguage”. Homo erectus (1 million BP) may have had protolanguage. This gives the innate faculty longer to incorporate this.
Chomsky (1965: 142): “semantic features ... too, are presumably drawn from a universal ‘alphabet’ but little is known about this today and nothing has been said about it here.”
Chomsky (1993: 24) vocabulary acquisition shows poverty of the stimulus.
“Les idées ... ne tirent en aucune sorte leur origine des sens ... Notre ame a la faculté de les former de soi-même.”
`Ideas do not in any fashion have their origin in the senses ... Our mind has the faculty to form those on its own.’ (Arnauld & Nicole 1662 : 45)
(1) like a cookie (Abe, 3.7.5)
(2) no the monster crashed the planes down like this like that (Abe, 3.7.5)
(3) I wan(t) (t)a show you something # I mean like this thin ? (Abe, 3.7.5)
(4) I feel like having a pet do you? (Abe, 4.8.20)
(5) watch it walks like a person walks.
(6) Daddy # do you teach like you do [//] like how they do in your school? (Abe, 4.10.1)
-Two negative cycles:
A) Using an indefinite, e.g. nothing/never/a bit in English, French, Arabic
B) Using a new verb, e.g. Chinese
-Languages without overt agreement
Recent shift towards third factors and parametric features: we need to be careful how many mechanisms we allow.
All change is in the lexicon: sem>i-F>u-F
What does the Poverty of the Stimulus argument mean for vocabulary acquisition?
Adger, David & Peter Svenonius 2010. Features in Minimalist Syntax. ms
Benincà, Paola & Nicola Munaro 2010. Introduction. In Benincà, Paola & Nicola Munaro (eds), Mapping the Left Periphery, 3-15. OUP.
Chomsky, Noam 1993. Language and Thought.
Chomsky, Noam 1995. The Minimalist Program. MIT Press.
Chomsky, Noam 2001. Derivation by Phase.
Chomsky, Noam 2007. Approaching UG from below, in Uli Sauerland et al. (eds), Interfaces + Recursion = Language, 1-29. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Cinque, Guglielmo 1999. Adverbs and Functional Heads. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cinque, Guglielmo & Luigi Rizzi 2008. The cartography of syntactic structures V. Moscati, ed. CISCL Working Papers on Language and Cognition, 2, 43-59.
Pesetsky & Torrego (2006) argue that valuation and interpretability are independent. Unvalued features act as probes and these can be either interpretable or uninterpretable. The tense features in T are interpretable but unvalued whereas the tense features on the verb are uninterpretable but valued.
For instance, Panagiodis (2008: 447) states that diachronic processes may introduce or eliminate uninterpretable features and rearrange them into new combinations.
Most changes are unidirectional.