Events and Books of Note

I’ve been gone for the past month or so, not such much because of work, but because of reading.

I’ve been working on writing book reviews for three books that should have been reviewed this spring while also writing a journal article.  My wife and I have also been house sitting. She’s working too much while trying to take a class, teach a class, and write a thesis and I’ve been trying to keep her going.

Its been an incredibly busy summer, but still a very fruitful one for Greek linguistics.

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop on Role & Reference Grammar, one of the most exciting linguistic frameworks for doing grammatical description — though some of my readers would probably hate it simply because it discharges quite a bit of traditional terminology (e.g. Subject, Object). But there’s reason for that: not all languages have those categories and if a framework seeks to be based upon language universals then those categories aren’t terrible helpful. One of the cool things he did was show how his proposed Referent Phrase does a better job representing syntax than the traditional category Noun Phrase. The significance of it for Greek, for those linguists reading, is roughly analogous to the value of the DP hypothesis. But unlike the DP, Van Valin’s proposed RP doesn’t create an additional category on top of the NP because the RP replaces it. Very cool.

My only frustration (and this is a continuing one which began years ago) is that more often than not frameworks tend to be presented as the superior analysis, generally only with reference to Chomskyan Generative Grammar. The thought that provoked this at the workshop had to do with what’s called the Lexical Integrity Hypothesis (see here for my explanation). Van Valin argued (following some proposals of Daniel Everett) that syntax could see into the internal structure words with access to feature bundles of semantic and grammatical categories (e.g. case, agreement, tense, aspect, etc.). Now, he’s right in Chomskyan terms, but HPSG and LFG, two frameworks that accept the Lexical Integrity Hypothesis, essentially do the same thing with their attributive value feature structures.

Anyway, sometimes I wish frameworks could do more working together than they do — and much of current Chomskyan linguistics makes it quite easy to get in a cheap shot.

In other news, many of you might have noticed that Oxford recently published a new volume of Greek prepositions: Greek Prepositions: From Antiquity to the Present. They were generous to send me a review copy. I promise to post a review of it more promptly than the other reviews that I’m working on (one of which is close to a year late now…).

Also, Wiley Blackwell has released a revised edition of Geoffrey Horrocks’ Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. The second edition is nearly 150 pages longer than the first edition, published by Longman and long out of print. Its unfortunate that the price has gone up. Hopefully there will be enough interest for a more accessibly priced paperback to be released eventually. And again, Wiley Blackwell have been quite kind in sending a review copy (though it is still in the mail at this point). I had only just finished reading the first edition two week ago. It was one of the most illuminating reads in some time.

Finally, I’ve discovered some interesting details about the history of middle voice terminology in NT Greek grammar that I hope to share a post on in the near future. Keep your eyes open.

14 thoughts on “Events and Books of Note

  1. Hi,

    Concerning the universality of subject and object, that is the main disagreement I have with Role and Reference Grammar.

    If I am not mistaken this idea started with Schachter 1976 (the subject in Philippine Languages) in Li, Subject and Topic
    and 1977 (Reference-related and Role-related Properties of Subjects) in Cole and Sadock, Grammatical Relations. Syntax and Semantics 8.

    Since I did my dissertation on Cebuano, I am somewhat familiar with Philippine type languages. Schachter analysed quite correctly that sometimes the subject is with nominative and sometimes with genetive (I forget if he used those terms.) What he failed to note is that that is the normal behaviour of ergative languages. I think mentally he was blinded by his mother tongue. Thus he followed the indexing theory of case: a certain case has always the same function. Thus if a nominative is subject in some clauses, then it must be that nominative is the marker of subject in all clauses. The correct view on case marking is that cases are differentiators. The function of a case is to say that I am different than the other cases.

    Thus the Actor Focus is actually an intransitive clause, since it is antipassive. Thus the subject is marked with absolutive/nominative. And the so called object is marked with obkique marker ug. The real transitive clauses are those with ergative/genitive marking for the subject.

    This is the short explanation. If you want to discuss more, please send an email to me to ***, even if you respond to this blog post.

    Yours,
    Kari

    1. Randy LaPolla makes the very same argument on the basis of his PhD work in Mandarine.

      But yes, I have my own disagreements on this one — but I was also taught grammatical analysis for Paul Kroeger (Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog).

      For RRG, as I understand it, it entirely depends on how you define “Subject.”

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for your reply.

        I used Paul’s book in my dissertation also. He studied Tagalog in his dissertation. The problem with inductive method is, that one has to ask the ergative question also. I.e. one has to test the ergative hypothesis also, before one can say that RRG is the best solution. I do not remember exactly what Paul used as his arguments, but I remember that the book was a disappointment.

        You said:
        For RRG, as I understand it, it entirely depends on how you define “Subject.”

        It is problematic for linguistics as a science and RRG in particular, if one can do tricks with such a central notion as subject. There are three possibilities here: 1. grammatical subject, 2. agent and 3. theme. Often the three coalesce. But, in my mind, the universality of the subject discussion has to start from the grammatical subject. One can test it with Equi-NP deletion etc.

        Yours,
        Kari

      2. But, in my mind, the universality of the subject discussion has to start from the grammatical subject. One can test it with Equi-NP deletion etc.

        RRG criticizes the traditional definition of subjecthood as not being universal — and I think their right on that. But then when you look at something like Paul Kroeger’s book, his definition of subjecthood also isn’t the traditional definition, at least as that definition is set out by RRG. And to that extent the difference between RRG and LFG (Kroeger) is merely one of terminology.

        This is when the discussion becomes more about terminology: what’s the difference between talking about the universality of the Subject vs. the universality of the Preferred Syntactic Argument?

        The value of RRG is that you’re expected to *prove* that a language has grammatical relations rather than just assume that they exist a priori. For him, Subjects must be proven on entirely syntactic grounds without reference to semantic roles.

        My own frustration with RRG comes when they continue to prefer to avoid using the terms Subject and Object even after the existence of those grammatical relations is proven. Now with that said, in Van Valin’s workshop two weeks ago, we didn’t get to grammatical relations until Thursday in the week and he himself used “subject” and “object” consistently through virtually every session.

        (by the way, I hid your e-mail address so you wouldn’t be found by spammers)

  2. I really wish I had a better notion what you’re talking about, because it sounds interesting. You say that the revision of Horrocks is going to be more expensive! As I recall, the original version was outlandish.

    1. I never knew what the original price was. I had been under the impression that the first edition in the Longman Linguistics Library was relatively well priced, but skyrocketed after it went out of print…

  3. I know almost nothing about RRG, but as it is a lexicalist framework I probably wouldn’t go for it. Do you know many non-lexicalist frameworks?

      1. Right, but there still is a lexicon correct? Unlike frameworks like Distributed Morphology which reject the concept entirely.

        I don’t know much about non-transformational syntax, but would be interested in finding in it some non-lexicalist frameworks.

        1. To the extent that there is a collection of vocabulary items that are inserted into syntactic templates, then yes, there is a lexicon. But it hardly (if at all) differs from what Distributed Morphology terms the “encyclopedia.”

        2. Well, just so you know, for the past couple decades, the majority of work in RRG has been in syntax, morphology has only become an interest in the past four or five years — I don’t know how much literature there is on it yet…

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