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From morphology to syntax or the other way around: Re-thinking the directionality of change in historical syntax

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In the principles-and-parameters approach to diachronic syntax, differences in grammatical structure between successive historical stages are derived from the resetting of a parameter value. In Roberts & Roussou’s (2003) system, the locus of parameter change is the morphological expression of parameters. The non-convergence with the target grammar is brought about by the ambiguity or loss of a morphological trigger, which initiates the reanalysis of an input string in terms of a simpler representation. The directionality of change is therefore from morphology to syntax, with morphological change entailing the loss of formal marking. I propose a more fine-grained typology of the relation between morphological and syntactic change.

The central hypothesis is that the locus of syntactic change is syntactic variation, where syntactic variation is defined as the co-existence of various sentence patterns (word orders) in one language to express the same basic proposition with subtle distinctions in meaning. In enhancing the expressive power of the language, syntactic variation is an integral part of the syntax and so is syntactic change. Syntactic variation itself is restricted, because it is tied to syntactic processes such as movement. I will present a case of INCREASING morphological complexity (the extension and paradigmatic organization of the tense/aspect/mood system in the later stages of Ancient Egyptian) and argue that it represents a regular and systematic type of morphological change that comes forth from regular syntactic change (expansion of the topic/focus field; shrinking of the vP domain).

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

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