The University of Hong Kong
29 May, 2012 (Tuesday) 5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Place: Room 807, Knowles Building
This paper investigates the historical basis of Greenberg's word order correlations. Traditionally, there have been Chomskian and functionalist explanations put forward to explain correlations between word orders of different constructions, such as verb-object and adposition-noun ordering as observed first by Greenberg (1966) and investigated on a larger scale by the World Atlas of Language Structures (Dryer et al. 2012). Languages with consistent head-final or head-initial ordering are postulated by Chomsky, Baker (2001) and other generative grammarians to be easier to acquire; while Dryer and Hawkins advocate explanations based on ease of processing. This paper explores an alternative hypothesis advocated by Aristar (1991) that the word order correlations are created by grammaticalization (adpositions for example are etymologically verbs in many languages), and investigates to what extent this fact alone can explain these universals, and whether this makes Chomskian and functionalist explanations redundant, or even false.
The correlation between genitive/noun ordering and verb/object ordering is examined here in a number of languages. A possible diachronic pathway that explains the correlation is the origin of verb forms in nominal verbs used with a possessive object. The typological predictions of this hypothesis are examined in conclusion.
Aristar, A. (1991). On diachronic sources and synchronic pattern: an investigation into the origin of linguistic universals. Language 67.1-33.
Baker, Mark (2001). The Atoms of Language: The Mind’s Hidden Rules of Grammar. New York: Basic Books.
Greenberg, J. ed. (1966). Universals of Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.