Topic structures and minimal effort

  • The complexity of human languages has always inspired research for some human faculty that makes language learning possible. The system that generates the complexity of human languages, ideally, is simple and effective. Recent developments of the generative grammatical theory explore deeper into the issue of simplicity or economy. The Minimalist Program developed in Chomsky (1991, 1993, 1995) tries to provide contents to such notions. What does it mean to be more economic or least effort? An important instantiation of such notions is the proposal that movement is the last resort assuming that movement is more costly than non-movement. Processes occur only because they are necessary. The definition of necessity generally is cast in morphological terms. Moreover, the notion of "economy" or "least effort" is deterministic of the appropriate derivations for sentences: a shorter derivation is better than a longer one. In this work, we show that the notion of "least effort," - do minimally if possible - is manifested not only in derivations but also in other aspects of the grammar. We take Chinese as an example and show that this language exhibits the properties manifesting some "least effort" guidelines in the area of movement and reconstruction, and in the projection of syntactic positions: when there is a choice, non-application of moyement/reconstruction and non-projection of a position are adopted. These phenomena essentially are attested in topic structures. The question arises as to why topic structures exhibit such minimal effort effects. We suggest that this is due to the fact that topic structures can be derived by movement or base-generation. When there are morpho-syntactic clues that reconstruction is necessary, the structure is a movement structure. Otherwise, the less costly non-movement structure is assumed. Moreover, because of the possibility of assuming a topic NP to be base-generated, bearing a predication (or aboutness) relation with the comment clause, the argument position which otherwise would be related to the topic (conveniently termed the trace position) is not projected when there is a choice of projecting or not projecting it.

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Author:Yen-Hui Audrey Li
Parent Title (English):Issues on topics / Ed. by Kerstin Schwabe ..., Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung, Berlin, 2000; ZAS papers in linguistics Vol. 20
Publisher:Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung
Place of publication:Berlin
Document Type:Part of a Book
Date of Publication (online):2013/11/14
Year of first Publication:2000
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2013/11/14
GND Keyword:Topik; Chinesisch; Morphologie; Syntax
Page Number:20
First Page:1
Last Page:20
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 41 Linguistik / 410 Linguistik
Linguistik-Klassifikation:Linguistik-Klassifikation: Syntax
Linguistik-Klassifikation: Kontrastive Linguistik / Contrastive linguistics
Linguistik-Klassifikation: Grammatikforschung / Grammar research
Zeitschriften / Jahresberichte:ZAS papers in linguistics : ZASPiL / ZASPiL 20 = Issues on Topics
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht