Update on the Grammar Writing Process IX

And there I thought that the manuscript of my Ayeri grammar was basically done … Looks like I will have to do some reanalysis of noun phrases and adjective phrases after all. This blog article is a cross post from Conlang-L. While Jeffrey Brown already said over there that the apparent N⁰-to-D⁰ thing (in parallel of apparent V⁰-to-I⁰) shouldn’t be a problem, the question of what to do with APs hasn’t been answered yet. I’m leaving the comments on this article open because I’d like to know if the below is a reasonable analysis.

(In case the pictures of trees and stuff below appear too small on your screen, click to enlarge.)


OK, since two of you suggested to summarize what I’m uncertain about specifically … Ayeri is a VSO language, and I analyzed it previously as having the following basic sentence structure for transitive clauses where the subject NP is not a pronoun (view this email in a fixed-width font to see the examples and charts lining up):

As I said in my original post, I analyzed my conlang’s syntactic structure in terms of LFG, so the c(onstituent)-structure tree above contains functional annotations instead of relying solely on bar levels in order to identify syntactic functions; non-branching pre-terminal bar levels are moreover typically pruned for tidiness. ↑ = ↓ means that the semantic content of the current node is simply passed on to (or actually, united with, as in set theory) the next higher node; (↑ SUBJ) = ↓ identifies the current phrase as the superior node’s (and ultimately IP’s) subject, etc. This way, Ayeri relies on an extended head for its verb (the head of VP is empty but its functional equivalent is found as the head of IP), so that it is still “configurational,” also since I⁰ still c-commands V⁰’s modifiers this way.


I should add that the verb—normally branching off of VP to the left as V⁰—is analyzed here as being found in I⁰ instead. This way, I⁰ holds the inflected verb, its sister XP optionally holds e.g. an adverb. S contains the arguments of the verb: the left NP is the subject, its sister is the VP we extracted the verb from, and VP’s daughter is the object NP. So in linear order we get verb–subject–object (or VSO for short) for the constituents.


Now, the thing that is still puzzling me is that Ayeri very regularly places modifiers after heads, and since there is no agreement morphology on adjectives, adjectives follow their heads immediately to keep scope unambiguous, even though they are adjuncts and not complements. Complements move up further to the right if an adjective is present: NOUN–ADJ–COMP. To give an example:

  1. {Ang vacya} John koyās dano gindiyēri.

    ang=vac-ya Ø=John koya-as dano gindi-ye-eri

    AT=like-3SG.M TOP=John book-P green poem-PL-INS

    ‘John, he likes the green book of poems.’

Here, the adjective dano ‘green’ follows its head, koyās ‘book’ rather than the head + complement koyās gindiyēri ‘book of poems’ to signal that its head is ‘book’ rather than ‘poems’ (‘*green poems’ are maybe the kind of poetry colorless green ideas prefer, I don’t know). Functionally, this construction should be in no way different from the ‘normal’ constituent order N–COMP–ADJ. It’s simply a quirk of Ayeri to invert the order of complement and adjective/adverb, although as we will see below have seen above, this quirk is motivated.

Here, the part in question is the f(unctional)-structure labeled ‘OBJ’ for its function as an object: its lexical head (‘predicator’) is ‘book’, which subcategorizes for a complement. This requirement is satisfied by the subordinate f-structure labeled ‘COMP’. The object also contains an adjunct function (ADJ), and the only member of the set is given as the adjective ‘green’. The question is now, however, how to analyze this in terms of c-structure. In LFG, functional heads are regarded as co-heads of their equivalent lexical categories, which is why I⁰ and V⁰ are regarded as functionally the same: both functional and lexical heads of the same kind (verbal, nominal) write their semantic features into the same f-structure. The strategy of verbs should thus in principle also be applicable to D⁰ and N⁰, with D⁰ as NP’s extended head. However, I have so far analyzed NPs with adjuncts and complements in the following way and was wondering if this is correct:

While it is generally possible to adjoin a phrasal node to a phrasal node, the restriction according to LFG’s annotation rules is that phrasal nodes adjoined to another phrasal node either need to be unannotated (I suppose, this means ↑ = ↓) or not to embody an argument function, however, COMP is an argument function. For nouns, I suppose one could still invoke lexocentricity—the word as such identifies the NP as a complement, here by way of its case marking. This does not work for all phrase types, however, since e.g. CPs as complements of predicative adjectives (nice [CP that you’re here]) do not mark case. I was wondering therefore if the following analysis might not actually be better, also because it parallels the way Ayeri handles verbs:

The head noun is found as a functional head D⁰ here, while N⁰ itself is empty, however, its complement is still in place. This parallels how V⁰ is empty, while the object, as V⁰’s complement, is still constructed as a daughter of VP. This also allows for annotation of the nodes according to the rules, or at least without bending them, as far as I can tell.

A question arising from this is how to deal with determiners. Since I modeled my analysis in (1) on Bresnan et al.’s (2016) analysis of Welsh—which they analyze as not using Spec as a parametric choice—I implicitly assumed for Ayeri as well not to make use of Spec. This means that I analyzed determiners like ‘my’ or sinya ‘which’ (as an interrogative pronoun) as heads of DP which are complemented by an NP, as in (6a). However, with the analysis in (5), can I still follow this strategy and have [DP [DP NP]], as in (6b), or is it preferred for DP not to recursively include another DP for some reason? This is probably a Syntax 101 question, but I’ve never really had a Syntax 101 class.

I mentioned above that adjectives can have phrasal complements. If an adverb is present, complements of adjectives move up as well, but adjective phrases do not have a functional equivalent. So what would I do there, if the strategy outlined for nouns in (5) is followed mutatis mutandis? Would I simply put an AP inside another AP, or would I maybe rather use DP, since adjectives are a nominal category in my conlang?

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.