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Mechanisms of harmony and the ordering of word order: consistencies and inconsistencies in language change and acquisition

By Markus Gonitzke


The thesis is based on the learning of word-orders in a cross-lingUistic and historic perspective. In linguistics, a certain hannony is expected in word order. X-bars of a language are supposed to be right-branched or left-branched.. So, a language, which is right-branched has its head usually first, and a language, which is left-branched has its head usually last. In the generative framework, linguists argue that when a child encounters a structure where the head is to the right, she will assume that the whole language is constructed this way. Cognitive scientists like Christiansen argue that inconsistencies, that means a mixture of right- and left- branching are more difficult to learn because of recursive embeddings, and thus inconsistencies should simply die out or never come into existence in the first place. Greenberg established language universals after having considered forty languages. These universals would show consistencies in an X-bar branching, but Greenberg also cited exceptions and spoke of statistical universals. We are interested in these inconsistencies. If they are really more difficult to learn, why do they evolve in the first place and why are they often quite consistent in language evolution, i.e. they do not die out. Historical linguistics often argue that languages tend to develop from one consistent language via a transitional one and then develop again towards a consistent language. Inconsistent structures exist in most languages although there is a statistical trend towards consistencies. So, how do languages change and what makes persons learn at one stage a language differently and what are the mechanisms involved in learning that we can see as an end-result in language change. We will examine some of these phenomena, when we discuss�· language change in Romance, the introduction of postpositions in Gennan, and the role of the infinite verb in Gennan and in Old English. Experimental work has been done for the frontability of Gennan particles, which is closely linked to the introduction of postpositions. We did an experiment in English language for the role of the infinite verb in verb-final languages such as Gennan and replicated this experiment in French because of its richer verb morphology because this gives us a greater distinction between finite and infinite verbs. An SRN-simulation on the role of the infinite verb supports the experiments

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