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THEORY: branchedness [was Re: Word order]

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Tuesday, August 6, 2002, 23:13
Quoting Barry Garcia <Barry_Garcia@...>:

> CONLANG@LISTSERV.BROWN.EDU writes: > >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: (2) P'avle jmas c'erils gaugzavnis Paul.NOM brother.DAT letter.DAT he will send "Paul will send his brother a letter" (<j> here is [dz], and <c'> is [ts']) (3) chemi axali k'ost'umi unda naxot. my new suit must see-Pl.IMP "You all must see my new suit." (4) "In dem von der US-Regierung finanzierten Vortrag hieß es weiter..." lit. "In the by the US-government financed speech is it further claimed..." (from _Der Spiegel_, "Notfalls Saudi-Arabische Ölfelder okkupieren") (5) That incredibly irritating neighbor of ours... (Not: neighbor that irritating incredibly of ours) As you can see in (2) and (3), expressed subjects and objects come *before* the verb, not after. In the generative tradition, this has been explained by reference to the branchedness of complements: in Georgian, as in many other languages, like, say, Japanese, complements are placed to the left of their head. Even prepositional phrases may in such left-branching languages be placed before the noun they modify, as we can see from the German example in (4). These generalizations will broadly hold true across languages, although individual languages will obide by them to varying extents. English, although usually highly right-branching, places most adjectives before, not after, the modified noun in (5), and in matrix clauses, German places objects and prepositional complements after, not before, the head verb. 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. ========================================================================= Thomas Wier Dept. of Linguistics "Nihil magis praestandum est quam ne pecorum ritu University of Chicago sequamur antecedentium gregem, pergentes non qua 1010 E. 59th Street eundum est, sed qua itur." -- Seneca Chicago, IL 60637


Tim May <butsuri@...>