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Structure and linearization in disharmonic word orders

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Anders Holmberg


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This paper focuses on a disharmonic word order pattern that has not previously received specific attention in either the generative or the typological literature, namely that in which a superficially head-initial phrase is dominated by a superficially head-final one. Unlike the opposite disharmonic pattern (head-initial over head-final), final-over-initial appears to be curiously absent in various clausal and nominal contexts and in unrelated languages which permit a range of word orders (e.g. Germanic, Finnish, Basque). On the strength of this observation, a constraint is formulated which rules out final-over-initial orders: the Final-over-Final Constraint (FOFC). The primary aim of the paper is to gain a better understanding of the nature of FOFC and also to consider what insights it may offer in respect of the structure underlying disharmonic orders and the manner in which such structures are linearized. Consideration of both cases conforming to FOFC and those which apparently do not do so (e.g. initial DPs and PPs in OV languages like German, clause-final particles and final negation in VO languages, circumpositional structures) suggests that a phase- and LCA-based analysis may facilitate understanding of the relevant gaps and occurrences. More specifically, it is proposed that phase heads determine the linearization properties of categorially non-distinct heads in their phasal domain. Unattested FOFC-violating structures like *VOAux and *SVOComp are therefore ruled out, while the counterexamples are shown to be derivable by virtue either of the categorial distinction between the dominating and dominated phrases or of the fact that the head of the dominating phrase is deficient, i.e. not a phase head. The conclusion is therefore that a properly formulated version of FOFC seems to hold as an absolute principle across languages, and that more detailed and systematic study of FOFC may, in addition to its typological interest, (a) reveal a great deal about the linearization of syntactic structure and (b) provide an empirical basis for developing a greater understanding of the nature of syntactic categories.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Biberauer T, Holmberg A, Roberts I

Editor(s): Chang, CB; Haynie, HJ

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Proceedings of the 26th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics

Year of Conference: 2007

Pages: 96-104

Publisher: Cascadilla Proceedings Project


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781574734232