Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The World Atlas of Universal Grammar

The World Atlas of Universal Grammar is an ongoing project documenting features of languages, by a team of more than eight authors.  Each feature is a structural property that describes one aspect of cross-linguistic homogeneity.  A feature has between 0 and 87178291200 values, shown by different colours on the maps.  Here is a sample of the features listed by author.

Steven Pinker
Does the language reverse the order of words in a sentence to form a question?
Yes      No
Does the language employ musical melodies for words and major/minor keys for polarity?
Yes      No
Is the language made up only of two-word utterances, with larger compositional meanings deduced from pragmatics?
Yes      No
Is it the ‘language’ of bee dance?
Yes      No
Does the language specify grammatical relations not in terms of agent and patient, but in terms of evolutionarily significant relationships (predator-prey, eater-food, enemy-ally, permissible-impermissible sexual partners, etc.)?
Yes      No
Is the language similar to the banter among New Guinea highlanders in the film of their first contact with the rest of the world, or the prattle of little girls in a Tokyo playground?
Yes      No
Is it a ‘rational’ language spoken in a utopian commune, lacking arbitrary signs larger than a phoneme and allowing the meaning of any word to be deduced from its phonology?
Yes      No

Mark Baker
Does the language have obligatory subject and object-agreement on the verb, free word order, and object incorporation, as well as prohibiting reflexive pronouns and indefinite nominals?
Yes      No

Noam Chomsky
How closely does the language resemble what a superbly competent engineer might have constructed, given certain design specifications?

Richard Kayne
Does the language have Subject-Verb-Object order?

Luigi Rizzi
What type of wh-movement does the language have?
Overt      Covert

Guglielmo Cinque
What is the ordering of noun and adjective, noun and numeral, noun and demonstrative, possessor and possessum, verb and object, and verb and subject?
Head-initial    Head-final

Ian Roberts
Is there V-to-V movement?
Yes      No
Does Force attract Fin?
Yes      No
Which of the following realizes Force?
Merge   Move   Both    Neither
Is it natural to hypothesize that the accusative form of the object is found when the object moves to SpecAgrOP, and therefore that the subject must have raised out of VP because it precedes the object, up to the lowest position available to the subject which is SpecTP, making the V higher than T and therefore in AgrS?
Yes      No

Géraldine Legendre
Rank these constraints in order of importance:
The highest A-specifier in the sentence must be filled   
Lexical items must contribute to the interpretation of a structure
Focused elements are aligned with the left edge of the VP
Focused elements are aligned with the left edge of the clause
Minimal projection
Economy of expression
No morphology
Obligatory heads
No lexical movement
Optional locative specifier
Optional manner specifier
Optional reason specifier

David Pesetsky
Does the language have case marking?
Yes      No
If not, is it a Bantu language that can drop the nominal augment on nouns if they are preverbal and raised, but not if they are unraised?
Yes      No
So it does have case marking after all!
Yes      No
Could this finding get published in Science, be reported as an AP news item, and end up as a theme for a joke by a late-night talk-show host?
Yes      No

Further reading: WALSPinkerBakerChomskyKayneRizziCinqueRoberts, Legendre, Pesetsky.  
Image links: World Phonotactics Database, Seuren Chomsky's Minimalism.
Cross-linguistic projects in generative grammar: SSWL, LanGeLin

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