Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

By Ronald P. Leow; Héctor Campos et al. | Go to book overview

9
What Is There When Little Words
Are Not There?

Possible Implications for Evolutionary Studies

LJILJANA PROGOVAC

Wayne State University

THE GOAL OF THIS CHAPTER is to provide a theoretical argument, using the tools of the syntactic framework of minimalism (e.g., Chomsky 1995), that certain small clauses (syntactic objects with no or few “little words”), which can be found in root contexts as well as in other unexpected uses, may represent “living fossils” from a root smallclause stage in language evolution (see Jackendoff 2002 for the idea of syntactic fossils). In addition to the root small-clause stage, the clausal development may also have gone through a protocoordination stage, on its way to developing specific functional categories. These claims are consistent with (a) a syntactic analysis of what counts as an increase in complexity, (b) well-known grammaticalization processes, (c) “living fossil” evidence, and (d) stages in language acquisition. Not only does this approach help situate syntax in an evolutionary framework, but it also sheds light on some crucial aspects of syntax itself, as will be shown.


Grammar without Little Words: Root Small Clauses

Consider the following utterances with no (or almost no) little words [(1), (3), and (5)], rarely discussed in the syntactic literature, and compare them with full finite counterparts [(2), (4), and (6)]. (In this chapter I only consider small clauses with one argument, in order to abstract away from the factor of transitivity, which involves an additional layer of morphosyntactic structure.)

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