University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cambridge University Linguistic Society > [Online talk] - The Syntax of Verbs: Language Typology, Language Change and a little bit of Language Acquisition

[Online talk] - The Syntax of Verbs: Language Typology, Language Change and a little bit of Language Acquisition

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I begin by presenting the results of recent work in comparative syntax demonstrating three distinct clausal positions for finite verbs in English, French and German (V2). This typology is developed by introducing subject-raising and object-movement so that all the major, non-object-initial word-order patterns of the world’s languages are accounted for (SVO, SOV , VSO and VOS ). Focussing on SVO languages, I next summarise the important proposals in Schifano (2018) showing that across Romance there are at least four distinct landing sites in the Tense-Mood-Aspect zone of the clause for finite lexical verbs, all of them higher than the position of the English lexical verb and lower than the V2 landing site. This leads to a distinction between meso- and microparameters. Chinese illustrates the Tense macroparameter. These results are combined into a Tense-parameter hierarchy.

Turning to language change, I present the evidence that Early Modern English was like French with regard to verb-movement. So the V-to-T parameter changed in 17th-century English. This change was connected to a change in the status of tense-agreement inflection, and entailed the introduction of Affix-Hopping as a repair strategy. The same has happened in the very recent history of Faroese. Finally, I briefly look at language acquisition, concentrating on root infinitives. I argue that these appear in two kinds of marked system: non-null-subject languages with V-to-T movement (French, Icelandic) and languages with Affix Hopping (all of Germanic except Icelandic). Modern English is a special case as it involves the nanoparameter of do-support, a highly marked and late-acquired option.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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