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Structure and linearisation in disharmonic word orders

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  • UserDr Theresa Biberauer and Professor Ian Roberts (Linguistics Dept)
  • ClockTuesday 30 January 2007, 18:00-19:30
  • HouseG-R04, English Faculty.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Theresa Biberauer.

Structure and linearisation in disharmonic word orders

The “disharmonic word orders” of the title refer to word orders that aren’t consistently head-initial or head-final, i.e. those showing “mixed” headedness. Both generative and typological accounts lead one to expect that orders of this kind should be infrequent/unstable/disfavoured, but they are in fact more common than the so-called “harmonic” word orders (cf. Dryer 1992). All disharmonic orders do not appear to be equally commonly attested, however, with certain mixed orders (those involving a head-initial phrase immediately dominated by a head-final one) consistently failing to surface in languages that otherwise license both harmonic and disharmonic word orders.

The goal of this talk is to formulate and motivate a generalisation about disharmonic/mixed systems which we hope will have universal validity for word-order typology. Our contention is that recent ideas in minimalist theorising (cf. Chomsky 2005) pave the way towards an understanding of the above-mentioned skewing and also of its apparent exceptions. In particular, we hope to show that the featural make-up of syntactic categories, the manner in which syntactic structures are constructed (cyclicity) and the manner in which these are then linearised interact to exclude precisely the structures we do not see, while accounting for those that we do.

[NOTE: This is joint work with Anders Holmberg of the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.]

This talk is part of the SyntaxLab series.

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