MetadataShow full item record
Certain grammatical patterns are found again and again in the languages of the world. Some of these patterns recur so frequently that they are given the label “universal”. Explaining the source of such patterns is clearly an important goal of linguistics, but how to go about doing this is not obvious. Problems range from the terminological (what sort of patterns should we consider universal?) to the methodological (what kind of explanation will we accept as sufficient?) to the theoretical (what role does a universal grammar have in shaping recurrent patterns? what role do functional considerations play?). How one answers one of these questions will affect how one answers the others. Can probabilistic generalizations be considered universals? If so, then we need explanations predicting probabilistic patterns. Are we looking for proximate explanations (for example, “language A shows pattern X because it inherited it from its parent language”) or ultimate ones (for example, “language A shows pattern X because only this pattern is permitted by Universal Grammar”)? Will we assume there is no such thing as Universal Grammar? Then, of course, we cannot appeal to it for any sort of explanation. Will we assume there is such a thing? Then, what is its precise structure? The papers in this volume are concerned, in one way or another, with both the general problem of explaining recurrent grammatical patterns and the more particular problem of trying to understand what the relationship is between these patterns and language change. Since languages are simultaneously products of history and entities existing at particular times, it seems clear that both diachrony and synchrony have a role to play in explaining the existence of 1 “universals”, but where the division of labor lies between the two is contentious. The papers here have been assembled to exemplify a range of approaches to this problem from researchers associated with different subfields of linguistics—e.g., phonology, morphology, syntax—and different approaches to linguistic analysis—e.g., formal, functional, historical. This is not to say the papers themselves (let alone the linguists) fit nicely into these categories. In fact, as we will see, many papers invoke multiple modes of analysis in dealing with the problems they take on.