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Bookmark and Share Paper 3006

No-Choice Parameters and the Limits of Syntactic Variation
Theresa Biberauer, Ian Roberts, and Michelle Sheehan
46-55 (complete paper or proceedings contents)

Abstract

This paper aims to show how an emergentist rather than hard-wired approach to morphosyntactic parameters opens up the possibility of a new understanding of how formal and functional pressures interact to account for the structured variation observed in natural languages. In particular, the proposal is that functional pressures of different kinds can exert an influence on parameter-setting, creating 'offers that cannot be refused', i.e. no-choice parameters. Three case studies are presented, highlighting aspects of the structured variation found in the domain of word order (specifically, Universal 20 and Final-over-Final Constraint effects), ergativity and the typology of negation. In relation to word order, it is shown that filler-gap-related processing considerations lead to what one might think of as an emergent "LCA Parameter" (Asymmetric c-command maps onto precedence/subsequence) necessarily being set to precedence; once set, this parameter gives rise not just to filler>gap-respecting structures, but also to more marked structures in which gap>filler. In the context of Chomsky's (2005) "three factors" framework, this processing pressure can be viewed as a type of developmental constraint in that gap>filler structures remain harder for humans to process throughout their lifetime than filler>gap structures. The ergativity example illustrates how interface-imposed convergence considerations can structure the variation observed in the alignment domain (see also Sheehan, this volume). Finally, the negation typology example shows how the interaction between principles of data analysis pausibly employed by acquirers and the Primary Linguistic Data constrains options in this domain. The key argument, then, is that it seems possible to reduce properties that might previously have been thought of as hard-wired UG principles and parameters to emergent no-choice parameters. More generally, in line with Chomsky (2005), the idea that functional pressures may influence the growth of I-language in the individual through parameter-setting rather than the initial state of UG itself seems worth pursuing.

Published in

Proceedings of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Robert E. Santana-LaBarge
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00