Freek van de Velde

How Syntactic Structure Emerged in Indo-European Languages

Until recently, it was commonly held that the basic syntactic structure of one language does not significantly differ from any other: the traditional Universal Grammar view had it that all languages had comparable syntactic templates, and that differences were superficial and basically due to parameter settings that could be switched on and off. This universality thesis has come under attack (Evans & Levinson 2009), and there is now a growing body of evidence that languages can differ considerably in their syntactic inventory: some languages have cases, others don't, some languages have subjects, others don't etc.
One of the differences concerns the presence or absence of noun phrases (Matthews 1981, 2007; Evans & Levinson 2009:440-442), and their internal morphosyntactic organisation. Integral noun phrases with a hierarchical constituency structure are a typical feature of the European languages (see Rijkhoff 1998:322-325, 362-363), and they seem to have acquired it in the course of time, as a close look at the nominal syntax of ancient Indo-European languages suggests that Proto-Indo-European probably lacked tight-structured NPs. This has been argued for at length in Van de Velde (2009a, b; 2010, 2011), and has been defended both for Germanic and Romance languages by Himmelmann (1997), Faarlund (2001:1713), Luraghi (2010), Ledgeway (2011, 2012) and Perridon & Sleeman (2011). In this lecture, I will trace the long-term drift of morphosyntactic expansion in the nominal domain in West-Germanic, which has taken place over the past several thousand years, by looking qualitatively and quantitatively at attested historical language data.
Freek Van de Velde (°1979) is a postdoctoral research fellow with the FWO Research Foundation at the University of Leuven, Belgium. His research focuses on West Germanic morphosyntax in general and Dutch in particular, both synchronically and diachronically, and theoretical models of grammar language change. He has taught widely on Dutch historical linguistics and language variation, in Leuven, Münster and Köln, and has co-organised several international workshops.
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Rijkhoff, J. 1998. ‘Order in the noun phrase of the languages of Europe’. In: A. Siewierska (ed.), Constituent order in the languages of Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 321-382.
Van de Velde, F. 2009a. De nominale constituent. Structuur en geschiedenis. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Van de Velde, F. 2009b. ‘The emergence of modification patterns in the Dutch noun phrase’. Linguistics 47: 1021-1049.
Van de Velde, F. 2010. ‘The emergence of the determiner in the Dutch NP’. Linguistics 48: 263-299.
Van de Velde, F. 2011. ‘Left-peripheral expansion of the English NP’. English Language and Linguistics 15: 387-415.