HASPELMATH_ Grammatical Asymmetries

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   1 13. April 2005, F.-S.-UniversitŠt Jena Iconicity versus frequency in explaining grammatical asymmetries M ARTIN H ASPELMATH    Max-Planck-Institut fŸr evolutionŠre Anthropologie 1. Introduction the intuition behind iconicity is that the structure of language reflects in some way the structure of experience Croft's (2003:102) (1) Iconicity of quantity  Greater quantities in meaning are expressed by greater quantities of form. Example : In Latin adjective inflection, the comparative and superlative denote increasingly higher degrees and are coded by increasingly longer suffixes ( long(-us)  'long', long-ior 'longer', long-issim(-us)  'longest'). (2) Iconicity of complexity  More complex meanings are expressed by more complex forms. Example : Causatives are more complex semantically than the corresponding non-causatives, so they are coded by more complex forms, e.g. Turkish dŸ ! (-mek)  'fall', causative dŸ ! -Ÿr(-mek) 'make fall, drop'. (3) Iconicity of cohesion  Meanings that belong together more closely are expressed by more cohesive forms. Example : In possessive noun phrases with body-part terms, the possessum and the possessor are conceptually inseparable. This is mirrored in greater cohesion of coding in many languages, e.g. Maltese id  'hand', id-i 'my hand', si   u  'chair', is-si   u tieg  # -i  [the-chair of-me] 'my chair' ( *si   (u)-i ). ¥ these three types of iconicity play no role in explaining grammatical asymmetries of the type long(-us)/long-ior  , dŸ ! (-mek) / dŸ ! -Ÿr(-mek), id-i / is-si   u tieg  # -i.  ¥ such formal asymmetries can be explained by frequency asymmetries: In all these cases, the shorter and more cohesive expression types occur significantly more frequently than the longer and less cohesive expression types, and this suffices to explain their formal properties. ¥ Iconicity is not only not necessary, but also makes wrong predictions. ¥ I make no claims about other types of iconicity, such as Ð iconicity of paradigmatic isomorphism  (one form, one meaning, i.e. synonymy and homonymy are avoided; Haiman 1980, Croft 1990a) Ð iconicity of syntagmatic isomorphism  (each form has a meaning, each meaning has a form, i.e. empty and zero morphs are avoided; Croft 1990a) Ð iconicity of sequence  (sequence of forms matches sequence of experiences; e.g. Greenberg 1963:103) Ð iconicity of contiguity  (forms that belong together semantically occur next to each other)   2 Ð iconicity of repetition  (repeated forms signal repetition in experience, as when reduplication expresses plurality or distribution). ¥ explanation vs. observation: The traditional view of language is that most relationships between linguistic units and the corresponding meanings are arbitrary... But the cognitive claim is that the degree of iconicity in language is much higher than has traditionally been thought to be the case. (Lee 2001:...) ¥ What I am denying is that iconicity is playing a motivating role and should be invoked in explaining why the patterns are the way they are. ¥ some authors (e.g. Giv—n 1985, 1991) seem to use the term iconicity as a kind of antonym of arbitrariness , so that almost anything about language structure that is not arbitrary fals under iconicity. 2. Iconicity of quantity 2.1. Advocates and examples (4) Greater quantities in meaning are expressed by greater quantities of form.  Jakobson (1965[1971:352]) and (1971), three examples: (i) In many languages, the positive, comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives show a gradual increase in the number of phonemes, e.g. high-higher-highest  , [Latin] altus, altior, altissimus . In this way, the signantia reflect the gradation gamut of the signata (1965[1971:352]). The higher the degree, the longer the adjective. (ii) The signans of the plural tends to echo the meaning of a numeral increment by an increased length of the form (1965[1971:352]). The more referents, the more phonemes (e.g. singular book  , plural books  , French singular  je finis  'I finish', plural nous finissons  'we finish'). (iii) In Russian, the perfective aspect expresses a limitation in the extent of the narrated event , and it is expressed by a more limited (i.e. a smaller) number of phonemes (e.g. perfective zamoroz-it'  , imperfective zamora $  -ivat' 'freeze') (Jakobson 1971). (see also Plank (1979:123), Haiman (1980:528-9), Anttila (1989:17), and Taylor's (2002:46) Cognitive Grammar textbook). 2.2. Frequency-based explanation Any efficient sign system in which costs correlate with signal length will follow the following economy principle: (5) The more predictable a sign, the shorter it is. Since frequency implies predictability, we also get the folloiwng prediction for efficient sign systems: (6) The more frequent a sign is, the shorter it is. (well known at least since Horn's (1921) and Zipf's (1935) work)   3 ¥ universally comparative and superlative forms are significantly rarer than positive forms of adjectives, and singular forms are significantly rarer than plural forms (see Greenberg 1966:34-37, 40-41) ¥ for Russian, Fenk-Oczlon (1990) has shown that there is a strong correlation between length and frequency of a verb form: in general, the more frequent member of an aspectual pair is also shorter. ¥ the principle of iconicity of quantity makes many wrong predictions (as was also observed by Haiman 2000:287): Ð that plurals should generally be longer than duals, Ð that augmentatives should generally be longer than diminutives, Ð that words for 'ten' should be longer than words for 'seven', or even Ð that words for 'long' should be longer than words for 'short', or Ð that words for 'elephant' should be longer than words for 'mouse' 3. Iconicity of complexity 3.1. Advocates and examples (7) More complex meanings are expressed by more complex forms. some quotations from the literature that describe this principle and refer to it as isomorphic or iconic : ¥ Lehmann (1974:111): Je komplexer die semantische ReprŠsentation eines Zeichens, desto komplexer seine phonologische ReprŠsentation. ¥ Mayerthaler (1981:25): Was semantisch mehr ist, sollte auch konstruktionell mehr sein. ¥ Giv—n (1991:¤2.2): A larger chunk of information will be given a larger chunk of code. ¥ Haiman (2000:283): The more abstract the concept, the more reduced its morphological expression will tend to be. Morphological bulk corresponds directly and iconically to conceptual intension. ¥ Langacker (2000:77): [I]t is worth noting an iconicity between of  's phonological value and the meaning ascribed to it (cf. Haiman 1983). Of all the English prepositions, of   is phonologically the weakest by any reasonable criterion.... Now as one facet of its iconicity, of   is arguably the most tenuous of the English prepositions from the semantic standpoint as well... often iconicity of complexity is described as a kind of iconicity of markedness matching : (8) Marked meanings are expressed by marked forms. ¥ Jakobson (1963[1966:270]): language tends to avoid any chiasmus between pairs of unmarked/marked categories, on the one hand, and pairs of zero/nonzero affixes...on the other hand ¥ Plank (1979:139): Die formale Markiertheitsopposition bildet die konzeptuell-semantische Markiertheitsopposition d[iagrammatisch]-ikonisch ab. ¥ Haiman (1980:528): Categories that are marked morphologically and syntactically are also marked semantically.    4 ¥ Mayerthaler (1987: 48-9): If (and only if) a semantically more marked category C  j  is encoded as more featured [=formally complex] than a less marked category C i  , the encoding of C  j  is said to be iconic. ¥ Giv—n 1991: The meta-iconic markedness principle: Categories that are cognitively  markedÑi.e. complexÑtend to also to structurally  marked. ¥ Aissen 2003:¤3: Iconicity favors the morphological marking of syntactically marked configurations. see also Matthews (1991:236), Newmeyer (1992:763), Helmbrecht (2004:226) formally marked = expressed overtly ; typical examples of such markedness matching: (9) less marked/unmarked (more) marked number SINGULAR  ( tree-¯ ) PLURAL  ( tree-s ) case SUBJECT  (Latin homo-¯ ) OBJECT  ( homin-em ) tense PRESENT  (  play-¯ ) PAST  (  play-ed ) person THIRD  (Spanish canta-¯ ) SECOND  ( canta-s ) gender MASCULINE  (  petit-¯ ) FEMININE  (  petit-e ) causation NON - CAUSATIVE   CAUSATIVE  (Turkish dŸ ! -¯-mek 'fall') ( dŸ ! -Ÿr-mek  'fell, drop') object INANIMATE   ANIMATE  (Spanish Veo la casa Veo a la ni–a.  'I see the house' 'I see the girl.') These universal formal asymmetries have been known since Greenberg (1966) (who did not invoke iconicty to explain them!) 3.2. Iconicity of complexity: frequency-based explanation Greenberg (1966): frequency asymmetries explain formal asymmetries: Ð less marked forms are more frequent, and more marked forms are less frequent across languages ¥ the English preposition of   is not only the most semantically tenuous , but also the most frequent of all the English prepositions. ¥ not only sufficient to account for the relevant phenomena, but also necessary, because iconicity of complexity makes wrong predictions: (10) less marked/unmarked (more) marked  number PLURAL   SINGULAR  Welsh  plu  'feathers'  plu  'feather' case OBJECT CASE   SUBJECT CASE  Godoberi mak'i  'child' mak'i-di  (ergative) person SECOND P . IMPERATIVE   THIRD P . IMPERATIVE  Latin canta-¯  'sing!' canta-to  'let her sing' gender FEMALE   MALE  English widow-¯   widow-er  causation CAUSATIVE   NONCAUSATIVE  German šffnen sich šffnen ¥ in all these cases, frequency makes the right predictions! ¥ often: markedness reversal ¥ unmarkedness = 'frequency': Marked means rare , and unmarked means frequent . Cf. Haiman (2000:287):
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