Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft

Published by De Gruyter
Online ISSN: 1613-3706
Print ISSN: 0721-9067
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In this programmatic paper, I argue that the universal constraints of Optimality Theory (OT) need to be complemented by a theory of diachronic adaptation. OT constraints are traditionally stipulated as part of Universal Grammar, but this misses the generalization that the grammatical constraints normally correspond to constraints on language use. As in biology, observed adaptive patterns in language can be explained through diachronic evolutionary processes, as the unintended cumulative outcome of numerous individual intentional actions. The theory of diachronic adaptation also provides a solution to t h e teleology problem, which has often been used as an argument against usage-based functional explanations. Finally, I argue against the view that the grammatical constraints could be due to accident. Thus, an adaptive explanation must eventually be found, whether at the level of language use and diachronic change (as proposed in this paper), or at the level of biological evolutionary change. 1. Preferences in competition: an old and new concept 2. Why are the constraints the way they are? 3. User optimality and adaptation 4. A mechanism for adaptation: diachronic change 5. Variation and selection in language 6. Grammatical optimality reduced to user optimality 7. Are grammatical constraints due to accident? 8. Conclusion 1. Preferences in competition: an old and new concept There is a long tradition in theoretical linguistics which holds that structural patterns of grammar are determined by highly general preferences or constraints that may come into conflict with each other. Gabelentz (1901:256) was very clear about the tension between the "striving for ease" (Bequemlichkeitsstreben) and the "striving for clarity" (Deutlichkeitsstreben). The neogrammarians were primarily concerned with the conflict between phonological tendencies (leading to exceptionless sound changes) and the tendency toward morphological analogy. Havers (1931:191ff) discusses in great detail the interaction of various general "conditions and forces" in syntax. With the advent of structuralism and its rigid synchrony/diachrony separation, this kind of thinking went out of fashion, as the focus was now on explicit and elegant descriptions of individual languages, rather than on highly general (if often vague) explanatory principles. But after several decades of abstention, linguists again began to become interested in highly general principles; and since principles can be formulated in a more general way if they are violable, this meant that the idea of conflicting preferences resurfaced. Within one tradition, such competing preferences were called naturalness principles in conflict (e.g. Dressler 1977:13, Dressler et al. 1987:7, 93); in another, competing motivations (Haiman 1983:812, Du Bois 1985, Croft 1990:§7.4). Langacker (1977:102) used the term optimality:
 
Vor dem Hintergrund der seinerzeit in Deutschland vorherrschenden friedenspolitischen berzeugungen hatte die Diskussion über den Golfkrieg Anfang 1991 eine besondere Brisanz. Der öffentlich ausgetragene erregte Streit über die Berechtigung des Krieges demonstrierte in außergewöhnlicher Kompaktheit, welche argumentativen Mittel politischen Diskussionen zugrunde liegen. Ziel dieses Aufsatzes ist es, den Gebrauch solcher Mittel anhand von Materialbeispielen bewußt zu machen und ihre kommunikative Funktion zu charakterisieren. Dabei zeigt sich, daß viele Kommunikationsteilnehmer in starkem Maße dazu neigen, manipulative Argumentationstechniken einzusetzen und die Sachauseinandersetzung mit typischen Verfahren der Konfliktaustragung zu überlagern.
 
Rezension von: Angewandte Sprachwissenschaft. Grundfragen -Bereiche - Methoden. Hrsg. von Günther Peuser und Stefan Winter. (Festschrift für Günther Kandier). - Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert.
 
In the 15th century, at a time when codification via dictionaries and grammars had not yet taken effect, printers, editors, and compositors were already producing pamphlets and books that had to meet the new requirements of the letterpress, especially as regards the arrangement of white space and uniform line justification (even-margined on the left and right). The following analysis investigates five German editions of the Mirabilia Romae (Marvels of the City of Rome), a well-known pilgrim guide, all printed in 1500 for the contemporaneous Jubilee year and thus for short-term sale. The results show that compositors used different means for text alignment: In addition to deviations in line counts and the repositioning of lines, they chose extended or contracted spelling variants, predominantly on the second half of the page. The most frequent variants are abbreviations in the form of tildes. However, just a few spelling patterns with tildes were used. With respect to explanatory processes in a historical perspective, the results call for a closer consideration of page format, text layout ( mise-en-page ) and line justification when evaluating spelling variation in early book printing.
 
The use of punctuation in German incunabula is often described as arbitrary, irregular, and unsystematic (cf. Masalon 2014: 54–56). This concerns the inventory, frequency, and function of punctuation marks as well as pragmatic aspects such as how typesetters treated punctuation in their respective target texts. In this paper, punctuation is not seen as an independent linguistic subsystem, but as a means of text segmentation that – along with other measures (e. g. capital letters, pilcrows, and white space) – was used to structure a text with respect to its formal appearance, helping the reader to decode information. This case study is based on a corpus of German pamphlets written by the Bohemian astrologer Wenzel Faber and printed annually beginning in 1481 at various print shops, principally in Leipzig and Nuremberg. The analysis finds significant changes in the editions before and after 1490. These changes include an increasing consistency in the intensity of text segmentation, and a use of capital letters and punctuation marks developed from a polyfunctional to a monofunctional approach. Finally, different types of text segmentation are proposed, each characterized by a specific relationship between its frequency and its function. Despite this overall tendency, one must still take into account that typesetters followed individual punctuation practices in their search for suitable forms of text segmentation.
 
In German printings of the early 18th century, the shift from the hitherto dominant sentence-dividing punctuation mark, the virgule, to the comma, takes place astonishingly rapidly. It is also astonishing that until recently, research has barely devoted itself to this phenomenon, even though it is at least a turning point in the history of the highest-frequency punctuation mark in German writing. The paper examines to what extent the transition from the use of the virgule to the comma is carried out in a phase-specific manner. Previous samples have indicated the influence of the font choice on the choice of punctuation: Printers or typesetters in the early 18th century set the comma especially in the environment of the Antiqua script, which is used to graphically label non-native words or syntagms. Is this a kind of “gateway” to the comma? By means of a corpus analysis in micro-diachronic sections, the status of the virgule/comma variation will be associated with the typographic variation in terms of the use of Latin Antiqua type and the German type.
 
In this paper I take issue with Antomo & Steinbach's (2010) analysis of so-called weil-V2 clauses, by which the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties distinguishing them from integrated verb-final weil-clauses are claimed to all follow from two central factors: (i) parataxis triggering prosodic desintegration, (ii) V2-order triggering assertional force potential. Support for this analysis is sought in a close comparison of weil-V2 clauses with V2 complement and relative clauses, which is claimed to reveal pertinent functional and structural parallels. - In arguing against this analysis, I show, first, that the assertional status of the weil-V2 clause is triggered solely by the semantics of weil in combination with true main clause status, hence V2 as such plays no role; second, that the argument from subordinate V2-cases fails as well; third, that the broader interpretational range of weil-V2 clauses is completely shared by unintegrated verb-final weil-clauses; hence this difference to integrated verb-final weil-clauses cannot be due to ±parataxis and/or ±V2, but only to ±syntactic desintegration and/or ±root status. In concluding, I summarize the central factors an alternative compositional analysis of weil-V2 clauses could be based on, and sketch two problems remaining for either analysis.
 
The present article argues that the two effects observed in bilingual first language acquisition, delay and acceleration, have different sources. Whereas delay can be due to cross-linguistic influence on the competence or the performance level and to the mere cognitive burden to process two languages, acceleration is always rooted in efficient computation in a non-linguistic sense. The evidence for the difference between delay and acceleration effects stems from children who are raised bilingually from birth and who are studied during spontaneous speech production. It falls out rather naturally that linguistic development is immune to acceleration, while it can be delayed in bilingual children as compared to monolinguals.
 
We investigated whether 68 non-native, tutored beginning L2 learners of Italian – with alphabetical and non-alphabetical L1s – discriminated between sentences containing target-like and non-target-like auxiliaries. We questioned whether learners’ choices could be informed by a grammatical rule, frequency of auxiliaries in the input or whether both grammatical and statistical knowledge could be eclipsed by processing difficulties. Eye-tracking and timed acceptability judgment data showed that – unlike native speakers – these L2 learners were unskilled readers of the target language and that their processing was still non-optimal. In particular, they did not process “core” (i. e., strongly agentive and inherently telic) and “peripheral” (i. e., less semantically specified) intransitive predicates differently, nor did they do so with “matching” and “mismatching” predicates. Frequency and transition probabilities speeded up learners’ decisions on acceptability, but did not affect response accuracy or reading patterns. Finally, recency and length of classroom instruction – unlike learners’ L1, duration of stay in Italy, and proficiency level – positively correlated with greater nativelikeness in the processing of auxiliaries. Our results indicate that beginning L2-Italian learners – as long as their processing is still non-optimal – are not sensitive to the consequences of the unaccusative/unergative split at the syntax-semantics interface.
 
The paper presents the results of a study investigating a possible influence of the viewpoint (perfective vs. imperfective) and lexical (telic vs. atelic) aspect of Polish verbs on the countability of eventive nominalizations ( substantiva verbalia ) derived from these verbs. Polish substantiva verbalia preserve many properties of the base verbs, including the eventive meaning and aspectual morphology. Native speakers of Polish rated the acceptability of nominalizations in count and mass contexts. An effect of both viewpoint and lexical aspect was found in mass contexts, where aspectually delimited (perfective, accomplishment) nominalizations were less acceptable than non-delimited (imperfective, state) nominalizations. In count contexts, only an effect of the lexical aspect was clearly present, with accomplishment nominalizations being more acceptable than state nominalizations. The nominalizations were overall rated as more natural in mass than count constructions, regardless of the aspect. The results indicate that aspect plays a role in establishing the countability of a word, but it does not fully determine it.
 
Top-cited authors
Martin Haspelmath
  • Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Ulrich Detges
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich
Richard Waltereit
  • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Dieter Wunderlich
  • Centre for General Linguistics, Berlin, Germany
Ray Fabri
  • University of Malta