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The Nature

of Language universals
Joseph Greenberg

Founding father of the modern typology


including language universals

Also macro-comparative studies of Africa


and, less mentioned, Papua New Guinea
Dobbs Ferry Conference
Dobbs Ferry Conference on Language
Universals
Greenbergs seminal talk on word order
Some universals of grammar with particular
reference to the order of meaningful elements
Also Jakobson, Osgood. Hockett, Ferguson
and others
Universals
statements that are true of all or most
known human languages
all languages have vowels differing in the
height
distributional patterns and tendencies
most languages belong either to SOV, SVO
or VSO type
Types of
Implicational (vs. unconditioned)
If a language has adjectives for shape, it
also has adjectives for colour and size ---
absolute, (Dixon 1977)
Statistical (vs. absolute)
consistent VO tend to be inflectional
consistent OV tend to be agglutinative
--- implicational, (Lehman 1973)
typo.uni-konstanz.de/archive/
Types of
Bidirectional
in a language with more than one lateral, if
they contrast in manner, then they do not
contrast in voice; and if they contrast in voice,
then they do not contrast in manner
(Maddieson 1980)
(Strictly) unidirectional
if a language has a dedicated elative, it also
has a dedicated (al)lative, but not vice versa
(Moravcsik 1984, appears to be false)
typo.uni-konstanz.de/archive/
Three types of universals...
according to Cristofaro:

Universals of language proper


see above on types of universals
Functional principles
Universal(s of the) of conceptual space
Discourse needs / motivations
Three types of universals...
according to Cristofaro:

Universals of language proper


Functional principles
Universal space of conceptual situations
Discourse motivations / inventory
Functional principles
Iconicity: a semiotic principle

correspondance between the structure


of linguistic expressions and the
conceptual situations they encode
Functional principles
Principles pertaining to language
use/acquisition/processing, as
Markedness: if conceptual situations
that are less frequent are associated with
zero marking, then the more frequent
situations will also be (type of economy)
Processing ease: accessibility hierarchy
in relativization
Functional principles
diachronic or synchronic?

Functional principles motivate the creation of novel


constructions but play no role in the propagation of
these constructions, nor in a speaker's acquisition and
use of existing constructions. Speakers produce existing
constructions because they hear them from other
speakers, not because of the functional principles
underlying those constructions. As a result, particular
constructions may be maintained in a language because
they are conventionalized, even when the functional
motivation underlying them has ceased to hold for the
language. not all the constructions of a language may
be functionally motivated at the synchronic level.
Three types of universals...
according to Cristofaro:

Universals of language proper


Functional principles
Universal space of conceptual situations
Discourse inventory / motivations
Universal conceptual space
basic meanings each lg has to express (?):
motion, space, time

semantic maps:
universal relations of similarity of meanings in
speakers mind

manifested in / extracted from:


patterns of combining different meanings
(functions)
Semantic map: classic style

Haspelmaths dative map


Semantic map: classic style

Narrog 2010: comitative


Semantic map: classic style

Quoted from Haspelmath, 2012


Probability semantic mapping
Cysouw, Hartmann and Haspel-
math 2015: ValPal outcomes
Three types of universals...
according to Cristofaro:

Universals of language proper


Functional principles
Universal space of conceptual situations
Discourse inventory / motivations
Universal parameters of
discourse

discourse organization tools each language


has to apply:

reference identity tracking, topic, focus.


cf. the idea of grammaticalization of
discourse strategies
Three types of universals...
Universals of language proper

Functional principles

Universal space of conceptual situations


UG and typology vs. three
types of universals
Universals Functional Conceptual
proper principles space

UG Interested Not interested Not interested

LT Interested Interested Interested


On the nature of universals
BIS: diachronic or synchronic?

Functional principles motivate the creation of novel


constructions but play no role in the propagation of
these constructions, nor in a speaker's acquisition and
use of existing constructions. Speakers produce existing
constructions because they hear them from other
speakers, not because of the functional principles
underlying those constructions. As a result, particular
constructions may be maintained in a language because
they are conventionalized, even when the functional
motivation underlying them has ceased to hold for the
language. not all the constructions of a language may
be functionally motivated at the synchronic level.
On the nature of universals
Cristofaro 2010: are the universals (proper) part
of the speakers linguistic knowledge?
traditional linguistic typology
until some point, indifferent to the issue
generative grammar
absolutely !!! why?
universals of grammar must be part of the speakers
innate linguistic knowledge to make up for the poverty
of (external) stimulus
Universals in GG
Various types of universals are treated differently:
Unconditioned universals

Implicational universals as parameter setting in


Principle and parameters theory, including:
two way implications
determining parameter clustering by a common
parameter
--- N ~ Gen & Prep ~ N
and one-way implications:
hierarchy of parameter settings, as by Baker
Universals in GG
how is this issue related to the founding principle
of the universal grammar?

the implicational relations between the settings


of the various parameters limit the number of
decisions a language learner has to make, and
Baker's prediction is that the fewer such
decisions, the more frequent the language type
will be
Universals in UG
The major problem that the UG approach
to universals faces is that...

there are no, or very few exceptionless


universals
cf. Levinson and Evans 2009 The Myth of
Language Universals
Nature of language universals
The language universals seem to be statistical by
their nature
No obvious way to solve this within Principle and
Parameters approach to language universals
It is not an acute problem for typology, because
it can live with statistical tendencies instead of
expcetionless generalizations
but it is a challenge, all the same! why
statistical???
Nature of language universals
The linguistic typologys answer:
Removing language universals outside speakers

individual grammar
Placing them in diachrony instead of synchrony

(dynamicization of typology)
Model of competing motivations

Universals results from more or less strong


tendencies in language change, not from head-
internal constraints on linguistic parameters