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Re: THEORY: branchedness [was Re: Word order]

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Thursday, August 8, 2002, 0:33
Thomas R. Wier writes:
 > Quoting Barry Garcia <Barry_Garcia@...>:
 > > >So, why is this the case?  I've heard people talking about
 > > >left-branching and right-branching languages, but I don't really
 > > >understand the theoretical interpretation of this.
 > >
 > > Yeah, neither do i. Can someone explain this as simply as possible,
 > > perhaps giving examples?
 > The basic idea derives from a lot of early generative ideas
 > about phrase structure.  All sentences, it is claimed, are composed
 > of groups of phrases generated by "heads", words which define
 > phrases' internal structure.  So, for example, we could break
 > down a sentence like (1a) into its constituent phrases in (1b):
 > (1) a. I like that picture of Sally.
 >     b. [[I]-NP [like [that picture [of Sally]-PP ]-NP ]-VP ]-S
 > You'll note that the nesting involved here seems to be directional,
 > that is, when a head word such as "like" takes a complement like
 > "that picture of Sally", or an NP like "picture" takes "of Sally",
 > the complement tends always to be the right of (spoken after) the
 > head which generates it.  This apparent directionality is what we
 > mean by "branchedness", since, like a tree branch, the phrase
 > structure appears to move uniformly in one direction.  Branchedness
 > is a language specific phenomenon.  Georgian, for example, is
 > a highly left-branching language, since all modifiers appear to
 > come before the verb, which is usually final:
 > Branchedness in general explains the fact that most SOV languages
 > will have postpositions and adjectives and genitives will come
 > before the modified noun, while most SVO languages will have
 > prepositions, and adjectives and genitives will follow the
 > modified noun.
 > The general idea to take away from all this is that in constructing
 > your language, you want to think about what the head word is for
 > any clause you're constructing, and then consistently branch
 > complements off to the same side in that clause.

Most interesting.  The idea of the object being part of the verb
phrase is relatively new to me (I have very little formal training in
grammar).  How is this treated in VSO languages, where the verb and
object are seperated by the subject?  Also, which is considered the
head of the sentence, the subject noun phrase or the main verb phrase?
Or is this language-dependent?


Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
julien eychenne <eychenne.j@...>