Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: Chomskian analysis of this sentence? -- What's in universal grammar really?

Expand Messages
  • R A Brown
    ... [snip] ... I should, I think, make it clear it so happens that in this fairly simple sentence of six words this is so. It should *not* be imagined that
    Message 1 of 81 , May 1, 2010
    • 0 Attachment
      Elliott Lash wrote:
      > Ray (responding to And) wrote:
      >> In fact there are 720 possible arrangements of the six
      >> words. There is, as far as I can see, no significant
      >> difference in meaning between any of them. Certainly
      >> they would all be given 100% identical form in the "box
      >> analysis" we used at school in the 1950s; and each
      >> would would be parsed in precisely the same way,
      >> whatever the order of words.

      I should, I think, make it clear it so happens that in this
      fairly simple sentence of six words this is so. It should
      *not* be imagined that all the words in any Latin sentence
      can always been arranged in any order without change of
      meaning or, indeed, without producing nonsense. There were
      constraints - even in verse ;)

      >>> E.g. if in any given context, speakers found the
      >>> variants completely interchangeable.
      >> They are not completely interchangeable in that, for
      >> examples, the constraints of the dactylic hexameter
      >> allow only six of the 720 arrangements. In prose, the
      >> order would be constrained within a given context by
      >> consideration of topic, comment and focus. The
      >> unmarked word order is SVO. Variation is caused by
      >> fronting topics, with comment following, and by moving
      >> an element which is 'focus' (i.e. the most important
      >> new information) to the end.
      > Given this information, I have been thinking about this
      > and I wonder whether something like the following
      > scenario makes any sense:
      > Since it seems that variant word order in prose was
      > determined partly by discourse considerations (which is
      > basically what my original hypothesis was), could it not
      > be that when Latin poets developed or borrowed (from
      > Greek?) dactylic hexameter,

      Adopted from the Greeks and then adapted by the Romans ;)

      > they noticed that certain
      > word order variants that were generative by normal
      > topic/comment/focus considerations in speech and prose
      > would work well to fit the meter and others would
      > not?That is, their grammar (the abstract system of rules
      > that generative grammarians say is given partly by
      > principles of UG) allowed them to generative word order
      > to express distinctions of topic/comment, etc, and then
      > they reused these word orders in a purely stylistic way -
      > deliberately.

      Certainly considerations of style and rhythm played a large
      part in verse. But even in certain types of prose, these
      considerations were by no means absent. Cicero, for
      example, was very conscious of elegance and balance with the
      arrangement of subordinate clauses and he strenuously
      avoided finishing sentences with anything that sounded like
      a verse rhythm but consciously strove for other cadences.

      I think it is difficult for us to put ourselves back into a
      world where the bulk of educated and literary language was
      _heard_, not read (Why, Romans even had educated slaves to
      read the stuff to them!).

      The ancients were far more conscious of things like sound
      and rhythm than we are. When we hear, for example, a
      politician speaking, we are not likely to be thinking much
      at all about the arrangement of her/his subordinate clauses
      or of the rhythms of the cadences of his sentences! If we
      applaud or boo such a speaker it will be for what s/he says,
      not the way it is said.

      > In this case, the grammatical rule is submerged and a
      > stylistic principle wins out. However, I think that a
      > generativist would say that the rule was primary the
      > stylistic principle was an exaptation - a reuse.

      Certainly, "ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas" is not
      exactly what we would expect in prose. But the 'new age' is
      certainly the focus - the new information - that Vergil
      wants to convey, and it sets the theme for the rest of the poem.

      The line in question is the 4th line of the 4th Eclogue. In
      the first three lines he has said, in effect, that the usual
      pastoral themes will not do; he is to sing of something
      loftier. In fact the poem heralds an age of peace and rural
      felicity - the return of the "golden age" (which indeed many
      Romans hoped for under Augustus after a century or more of
      civil wars).

      Some have found the poem reminiscent of passages of Isaiah.
      I think it most unlikely Vergil knew of the Hebrew
      scriptures and that apparent similarities are coincidental.
      But the poem also tells of the birth of a young child that
      will herald in the new age. It's not clear who Vergil
      meant, tho the general opinion is that it was a son of the
      consul Pollio. But in the Middle Ages the poem was taken as
      prophecy of Christ, and Vergil was seen as a sort of 'pagan

      But I digress. To put the lines in context, I quote the
      first four lines in C. Day Lewis' verse translation:
      Sicilian Muse, I would try now a somewhat grander theme.
      Shrubberies or meek tamarisks are not for all; but if it's
      Forests I sing, may the forests be worthy of a consul.
      Ours is the crowning era foretold in prophecy.

      I like "crowning era" as a translation of 'ultima ...
      aetas'; IMO it gets the meaning across better than "the last
      age"; and "prophecy" is what is meant by 'carminis', since
      oracles (such as at Cumae and Delphi) gave their messages in

      Possibly in prose one might have: 'iam venit Cumaei carminis
      ultima aeatas' - already there has come the crowning era of
      which the Cumaean sibyl sang - rather than the lame: ultima
      aetas Cumaei carminis iam venit.

      In short, in this line the word order is surely determined
      by several factors, e.g.:
      - topic, comment and focus;
      - elegance and balance;
      - constraints of dactylic hexameter.

      The first two considerations are by no means absent from
      prose writing also - but the third obviously applies to poetry.

      Nid rhy hen neb i ddysgu.
      There's none too old to learn.
    • MorphemeAddict
      kurbii kurbi stevo
      Message 81 of 81 , May 6, 2010
      • 0 Attachment
        kurbii > kurbi


        On Thu, May 6, 2010 at 7:35 PM, Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...> wrote:

        > On Thu, May 6, 2010 at 4:42 PM, MorphemeAddict <lytlesw@...> wrote:
        > > "Kurbata" and "kurbita" are passives of "kurbii", which to me is an
        > > intransitive verb, 'to be curved'. Intransitive verbs don't have
        > passives,
        > > so this would have to be "kurbigita" ('curved'). "Kurbigata" is the
        > present
        > > passive, not likely in this context.
        > You're right; I was mistaken.
        > --
        > Jim Henry
        > http://www.pobox.com/~jimhenry/
      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.