Finding Problems with the Current Theory
The current theory is very powerful and can account for a great many phenomena in natural languages. Despite this, it still misses an enormous number of sentences that are grammatical, at least in English, and the theory as given can’t account at all for some languages.
English was the language we used to base our current theory on, but within English there are some clear counterexamples to the theory we have. Just within noun phrases we have examples of constituency lower than NP but higher than N. For example, “the big brown dog and the little one too”. In this example “one” replaces “brown dog”, suggesting that the “brown dog” is itself a constituent, but given our existing PS rules for English this shouldn’t be possible. We thus have an anomalous constituent:
- [NP [D the] [AdjP big] [?? [AdjP brown] [N dog]]].
Irish is a type SO-I language, which means it has VSO word order. With the above grammar, placing the subject as the daughter of a TP makes it impossible to get it between the verb and the object. If we make new structures between V and VP, like we suggested for English, we’ll still find some example sentences that don’t word. For example, Irish has AuxSVO word order whenever an auxiliary verb is used, which makes it hard to have a single rule to account for word order.
Japanese and Latin
Japanese and Latin are what are sometimes called non-configurational languages, which means that they don’t have any significant amount of word order on a clause level. Japanese, for instance, only requires that verbs appear at the end of a clause (Japanese is a type III language), and that verb complements appear immediately before the verb. Latin is often cited as an example of a language with no word order on the clause level at all. Non-configurational languages such as these would require a large number of PS rules, one for each possible word order. With large clauses this could get unwieldy very quickly.
In the advanced syntax tutorial we’ll see how modern linguistics approaches these problems, and look at some experimental ways of describing behavior that would be more useful in the conlanging process.