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Entangled parametric hierarchies: problems for an overspecified universal grammar.

Boeckx C, Leivada E - PLoS ONE (2013)

Bottom Line: A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies.The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages.Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: ICREA, Barcelona, Spain ; Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

ABSTRACT
This study addresses the feasibility of the classical notion of parameter in linguistic theory from the perspective of parametric hierarchies. A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies. The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages. The empirical issues uncovered cast doubt on classical parametric models of language acquisition as well as on the conceptualization of an overspecified Universal Grammar that has parameters among its primitives. Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

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Parametric hierarchies in the nominal domain [18], [19].
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pone-0072357-g002: Parametric hierarchies in the nominal domain [18], [19].

Mentions: Languages differ in certain ways and certain combinations have been argued to be unavailable: According to the schema in figure 1, a language cannot have both ‘verb attraction’ and ‘serial verbs’ set to ‘yes’, presumably because there is no known language manifesting both. Similarly, according to the same hierarchy, English says ‘no’ to serial verbs. However, one could suggest that some serial verb constructions still exist in English [16]. To complicate things further, where would Hebrew and Finnish be on this schema in terms of the pro-drop parameter? Of course, one could suggest that, since Hebrew and Finnish exhibit mixed behavior [17], pro-drop as a macroparameter should be articulated in more detail (i.e. microparameters in isolation) to capture the different manifestations of the parameter’s value across syntactic environments. The concern here is obvious: An overspecified UG. Yet this is not the only issue to be addressed. If one assumes subsequent parameters the setability of which is dependent on the setting of pro-drop, what would this mean for the representation of pro-drop with respect to all following parameters, as the hierarchy in figure 1 proceeds in binary fashion from top to bottom? Apparently, the theoretically appealing ‘set-menu’ parametric paths do not look as neat as figure 1 portrays them: Once more parameters and more fine-grained relationships among parameters are represented, the schema in figure 1 would progressively look more like the representation in figure 2.


Entangled parametric hierarchies: problems for an overspecified universal grammar.

Boeckx C, Leivada E - PLoS ONE (2013)

Parametric hierarchies in the nominal domain [18], [19].
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3760868&req=5

pone-0072357-g002: Parametric hierarchies in the nominal domain [18], [19].
Mentions: Languages differ in certain ways and certain combinations have been argued to be unavailable: According to the schema in figure 1, a language cannot have both ‘verb attraction’ and ‘serial verbs’ set to ‘yes’, presumably because there is no known language manifesting both. Similarly, according to the same hierarchy, English says ‘no’ to serial verbs. However, one could suggest that some serial verb constructions still exist in English [16]. To complicate things further, where would Hebrew and Finnish be on this schema in terms of the pro-drop parameter? Of course, one could suggest that, since Hebrew and Finnish exhibit mixed behavior [17], pro-drop as a macroparameter should be articulated in more detail (i.e. microparameters in isolation) to capture the different manifestations of the parameter’s value across syntactic environments. The concern here is obvious: An overspecified UG. Yet this is not the only issue to be addressed. If one assumes subsequent parameters the setability of which is dependent on the setting of pro-drop, what would this mean for the representation of pro-drop with respect to all following parameters, as the hierarchy in figure 1 proceeds in binary fashion from top to bottom? Apparently, the theoretically appealing ‘set-menu’ parametric paths do not look as neat as figure 1 portrays them: Once more parameters and more fine-grained relationships among parameters are represented, the schema in figure 1 would progressively look more like the representation in figure 2.

Bottom Line: A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies.The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages.Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: ICREA, Barcelona, Spain ; Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

ABSTRACT
This study addresses the feasibility of the classical notion of parameter in linguistic theory from the perspective of parametric hierarchies. A novel program-based analysis is implemented in order to show certain empirical problems related to these hierarchies. The program was developed on the basis of an enriched data base spanning 23 contemporary and 5 ancient languages. The empirical issues uncovered cast doubt on classical parametric models of language acquisition as well as on the conceptualization of an overspecified Universal Grammar that has parameters among its primitives. Pinpointing these issues leads to the proposal that (i) the (bio)logical problem of language acquisition does not amount to a process of triggering innately pre-wired values of parameters and (ii) it paves the way for viewing language, epigenetic ('parametric') variation as an externalization-related epiphenomenon, whose learning component may be more important than what sometimes is assumed.

Show MeSH