15 May: Mark Steedman


Combinatory Universal Grammar

Mark Steedman (Informatics Edinburgh)

Tuesday 15 May 2018, 11:00–12:30
3.10 Dugald Stewart Building

Greenberg proposed as his 20th Universal a generalization about the possible language-specific orders over the elements of the noun-phrase (NP). Greenberg’s original statement has been modified a number of times, and a number of attempts have been made to explain its various reformulations in terms of “constraints on movement” of those elements within a single primary ordering corresponding to a universal order of merger or dominance, defined ultimately by their semantic types

The present paper begins by proposing a new generalization concerning the orderings allowed over the elements of the NP in rigid and more freely ordered languages. This generalization can be parsimonously captured in a theory of grammar without movement or other syntactic “action-at-a-distance” between non-contiguous elements. This theory predicts that only two of the twenty four permutations over these four elements are universally excluded. This prediction constitutes a formal universal, in that it follows from the theory of grammar itself, and appears to be both qualitatively and statistically confirmed by the data

The paper goes on to show that the same generalization appears to hold over a number of cases of order alternations in clausal serial-verb constructions in a number of languages.