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Constructions at WorkThe Nature of Generalization in Language$
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Adele Goldberg

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199268511

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268511.001.0001

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Cross-linguistic generalizations in argument realization

Cross-linguistic generalizations in argument realization

(p.183) 9 Cross-linguistic generalizations in argument realization
Constructions at Work

Adele Goldberg (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers several concrete proposals for universal linking generalizations. It is shown that the ‘universals’ are only tendencies, and each tendency is argued to be a result of general cognitive, pragmatic, or processing attributes of human cognition. Actors and Undergoers tend to be expressed in prominent syntactic positions because they are highly salient, in the sense that they are closely attended to in non-linguistic tasks. The number of semantic arguments tends to align with the number of overt complements because rational communicators express as much as and not more than is necessary. It is natural to express the meaning of transfer with a ditransitive form because of simultaneous parallels between recipients and patient-objects on the one hand, and possessor-subjects on the other. Predictable, recoverable, or highly frequent information tends to be reduced to make expression more economical. Languages tend to develop fixed word order or case marking in order to avoid rampant ambiguity. Moreover, languages tend to have stable head orders due to diachronic processes and processing preferences. Therefore, given that argument structure constructions are demonstrably learnable, and given that the cross-linguistic generalizations that do exist are not exceptionless, and motivated by non-linguistic generalizations, the chapter concludes that generalizations about the linking between form and function provide no evidence for a biological ‘universal grammar’ related to argument structure generalizations.

Keywords:   linking rules, argument omission, pragmatic mapping generalizations, word order, non-linguistic generalizations

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