Free Word-order Syntax: The Challenge from Vedic Sanskrit to Contemporary Formal Syntactic Theory

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991 - Government-binding theory (Linguistics) - 632 pages
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Vedic Sanskrit, the early Indo-European language spoken by the Aryan invaders of India in the 2nd millenium B.C.E., is a language showing little if any evidence for levels of syntactic organization between that of lexical items and that of maximal projections of those items. But the large corpus of Vedic literature does show evidence that Vedic grammar routinely generated NPs, PPs, and VPs into which words were organized. On the surface, however, this hierarchical organization is obscured by the ease with which Vedic grammar generated discontinuous constituents. Most of the discontinuities in the Vedic corpus result from phenomena common to a wide variety of languages, e.g., topicalization, pronominal fronting, particle placement, and focussing, which in Vedic are defined in such a way as to encourage discontinuity. In addition, phrases, insofar as they partook of nominal character, were defined by the grammar as 'scramblable', i.e., they could be freely discontinuous within their mothers without such discontinuity apparently needing any pragmatic justification other than the language-user's mere desire to take advantage of the options allowed by the grammar. An attempt is made to develop consistent descriptions of Vedic discontinuity in each of two formal syntactic theoretical frameworks, the Revised Extended Standard Theory also known as Government & Binding or Principles & Parameters Approach (PPA), and Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG). The PPA analysis is hampered by constraints built into the theory as a result of the study of languages with stricter constituent-order such as English, to the point that violence needs to be done to either the data or the theory. On the other hand, LFG proves capable of describing every attested clause with little difficulty, but appears to be no more capable than PPA of explaining why certain logically possible constituent orders occur very rarely if at all. Suggestions are offered for further research in the areas of both theory and fieldwork.

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