A Unifying Theory of Universal Grammar

(= THE “Great Unifying” Theory of UG???)

a post-modernist spin on generative grammar

(C) 2011 by Francis Tokarski

>>>>> PART I: Outline of and argument for the theory... <<<<<

What this theory could make possible:

    to predict a language’s grammar (e.g, its syntax) by just knowing the typical (or “default”) position of the tongue of the speakers of a given language. For instance, if you took one of a language’s speakers off the street and did a side-profile x-ray of them as they spoke, then make note of the position their vocal tract tends to be held in - from the root of the tongue, to its tip (though we can take other parts of the anatomy into account, too; such as the lips beyond the tongue-tip and the throat below the tongue) - then through that basic knowledge, and the measurements of relative proportions of the physiology, a prediction could be made of that given language’s syntax; - all this WITHOUT having heard or even understood the language!

Here is a term I am introducing:

    Vocal Tract Default Position, or VTDP

I am saying that each language has a particular VTDP. There are various ways to detect what a language’s VTDP is - aside from the above-mentioned x-ray experiment (yet to be carried out)...

    In a given language, for epenthesis there appears a certain C or a certain V. The particular C that pops up in a given language for epenthesis is that language’s default consonant (DC); and the particular V that pops up in a given language for epenthesis is that language’s default vowel (DV); and the placing (in the vocal tract) of the C and V directly reflect and correlate with the VTDP. If, for instance, the DC is /t/ and the DV /a/, then whatever in terms of the placement of the tongue that /t/ and /a/ share on some very primitive level is the language’s VTDP.

    In a similar manner, it may be so that the manner of articulation of the DC, and anything marked about the pronunciation of the DV, reflect what the language’s PROSODY is.

I am here defining prosody as the momentum or characterstic “tic” as it were (to use a term associated with Tourrette’s Syndrome) of the VTDP. But I am not saying that VTDP as a frozen, i.e, non-moving state, is real; one must, of course, look at the movement of the tongue from root to tip in an x-ray, and then come up with the average place it is, in order to know the VTDP. The reality behind each language - that is, that one special factor each language has, which, to know, means you can predict so, so much about its grammar, is VTDY and prosody taken together.

VTDP + Prosody = the matter at hand

If we want to isolate prosody for a moment, just to define it some more, then we could say it is what gives us syllabification, on the one hand, and manner of articulation, on the other. For the latter, think of Grimm’s Law where plosives become fricatives. And I am saying this latter goes hand in hand with the former, i.e, the Germanic foor structure with its expiratory stress accent - causing breath to escape past the plosives’ points of articulation beyond what could be described as “aspiration,” to the point of “frication.”

But let us return to VTDP by itself. It is dicoverable through (1a) what C pops up for epenthesis, and (1b) what V pops up in for epenthesis; and (2) how liquids are pronounced, or what about liquids is marked or unmarked... VTDP is the position of the springboard, and the actual jumping motion is the prosody... The tongue from root to tip is the agent, with the lips beyond or throat beneath possibly coming into play in a given language as reflexes or compliments of the tongue’s momentum.

VTDP and Prosody combine and can ultimately effect syntax - e.g, SOV language > VSO a la Celtic < PIE.

VTDP/Prosody is the core of grammar, grouped together as one, as the grammatical nucleus, indivisible in actuality like a yinyang. It is the soul/spirit of the language, the calibration of which - its particular frequency, as it were - is the “setting” or  “caliber” of a particular language. It is the “linguistic nervous tic” in its most primal form acting as the movement of the tongue, animating it, to be literal.......

Over time, this “spirit” - the spirit of a language, to use an archaic expression that I am hereby resurrecting in an enlightened post-modernist sense of us now in modern times at last knowing what the people of the olden days meant, even though they didn’t - is not definable within one period of time, i.e, synchronically. By definition, it is MOVEMENT in itself - the spirit that moves the tongue; and, as such as a verb and not a noun, “it” is inherently diachronic. That is why, for instance, no one position of the tongue (e.g, as in a photo) could show the VTDP and why, instead, you need to “get the FEEL” of a moving x-ray.

As an example of this spirit in diachrony, take the Germanic foot. I said how it as a prosodic entity or PROCESS, rather, caused the IE plosives to aspirate themselves away into fricatives With the expiratory accent that was more or less one and the same as this foot, the borders of syllables became irrelevant - the foot itself was relevant because the stress accent swept up everything into a rhythm that ordered everything into feet; intervocalic consonants became therefore ambisyllabic, like the, e.g, intervocalic /t/ in English, which can be [D] with the beginning of the tongue’s going into position of the closure being itself the syllabic coda, and the release of the consonant being the onset of the next syllable. On the other hand, in a language that does not have this same accent-type, e.g, French, the accent is relatively more about pitch than stress and, as such, because of the very nature of pitch accent, the syllable is preserved, i.e, is used as the vehicle that delivers each individual pitch - in contrast to the case of a trochaic stress language (e.g, Germanic), where the syllables get in the way of the all-subsuming foot that just want the speaker to plow through the word in one sudden single gush of air. Note how umlaut happened in both Germanic and Celtic - that is, the fronting of one distinctive feature form a feature bundle that was non-initial, and made it initial. The accent wanted everything this way! And, in correlation, in both linguistic groups we see IE SOV becoming VSO. In Celtic, VSO is the surface structure; in Germanic the intermediary stage is VSO, then comes further fronting... The reason behind the verb-second phenomenon of German is that a SOV structure gets fronted into VSO, which in turn is not desirable because of how that structure cuts the predicate in half... For some reason, Celtic will allow this cut, though...

Let us return to the notion of a default V/C. In Polish, the default would be more like a feature, that is, palatization; and that would quintessentially be [i] or palatal sounds like “shshsh” and “zhzhzh” - all of which Polish is so full of. And diachronically, sounds that were not palatal are subject to becoming so. The accent is stress, but the stress being on the penult, mora-count not taken into consideration, just the syllables. The spirit of Polish is the sound “shshsheeeeee.”

Conversely, the spirit of Germanic is that of blowing out a single stream of air as fast and hard as possible. This action accounts for turning plosives into fricatives and fronting segmental features or syntactic constituents.

If there is an underlying ideal universal default C of /t/ - and a typological study of languages would indeed reveal this - than this /t/ goes to “sh” in Polish and “th” in German (a la Grimm’s law).

Another example of how the VTDP and syllabification coincide is the face that in Far Eastern languages that are unrelated there is an syllabication that causes lexical or morphemic elements to stay separate - in the sense of agglutinative or isolative grammar - as though there were some genetic similarity. Well, perhaps there is a substrate of speaking with all there VTDP/Prosody’s set on the same calliber. We see in all those languages a similar unmarking of various liquid forms - i.e, instead of /l/ versus /r/ there is just one liquid. Whatever tongue-position not having to differentiate between /l/ and /r/ implies is that VTDP that accounts for Far Eastern grammar, as silly as that sounds without my having yet given you example after example to back this up.

We can make a new linguistic typology, one based on the VTDP/Prosody “yinyang” - a DYNAMIC typology because it defines a language type dynamically in terms of both phonology and syntax (= quality and order, respectively) simultaneously. It is also dynamic because it defines types of languages in terms of diachrony, and considers the synchronic as unreal snapshots necessarily all taken out of context - the context is the movement of TIME, without which, the language is dead...

The next step will be to list out all the traditional linguistic types and see what they do or do not have in common with each other in term of The VTDP/Prosodic Yinyang Nucleus. Each linguistic type is a setting or calibration of the grammatical nucleus. The old types based on morphology should be thrown out, as everybody knows, in any case - after all, not all people in modern times have been given to believe that morphology even exists!

But I am not saying morphology doesn’t exist.... I wish to make a flo-chart or diagram of what universal grammar is, such as by making four or five boxes, one saying Phonology, the other Morphology, then Syntax, the The Lexicon; and I will make lines connecting all of these boxes; and all these lines together is the Yinyang.

Indeed, my study shall begin by taking apart August Schleicher’s linguistic types, talking about how his list of them may have been added to over time, or changed, and then making the final changes myself. I list under each type what its features are; and then I will make my own types, and they will be based on my theory, and they will be a more ordered, economical and sensible way of organizing the features.

Then we can begin the x-raying!!!

>>>>> PART II: Linguistic Types <<<<<

Isolative: There is no morphology, just syntax. Or, in other words, with all things being relative, we could say there is a morphology that does not at all interact with the phonology, with is extremely simple on the segmental level - although, on a a sort of supersegmental level, such as with tones, the phonology my be rich. this morphology, however, would consist of all independent morphemes, or morphemes of which any could just as easily be used as the root or a modifier.

Agglutinative: The phonology stays simple (e.g, something as mild as the vowel harmony of Turkish), but now there is a closer knit between the morphemes. There is now indeed a definite distinction between morphemes and lexemes. The borders between morphemes and lexemes, and between morphemes and other morphemes, are clear - no phonology “messes up” this clarity.

Fusional: Here, there is little to no clarity between the borders of the lexemes and the morphemes... Instead of true morphemes, there are vestigial endings, like in Latin, of declensions or conjugations. (Perhaps some language have prefixes like this, too? - or is that impossible???)

Polysynthetic/Incorporating: Here, we have the lexicon and syntax as one! For, there are no true lexemes, only morphemes. One could also say, there is no syntax, only morphology. To put it another way: the lexicon consists of only morphemes; all the independant morphemes are verbal, and all non-verbal morphemes are dependent (or “incorporated”).

NOTE: So far, I have listed the linguistic types in an order of development, inaccordance with Schleicher - that is, that isolative comes first, then evolves into agglutinative, hen evolves in fusional. But I am putting here the polysynthetic/incorporating as an alternate path of evolution from agglutinative. Whereas in the fusional, the lexemes gain the upper hand and the morphemes become mere vestiges; in polysynthetic/incorporating languages, the morphemes gain the upper hand, and the lexemes themselves fall in rank to morphemes. The lexemes do not necessarily become the unbound morphemes as opposed to the bound ones - the verb rises to free morpheme status. This verbal type of language contrasts with the isolative, which are nounal.

Renaming: islative = nounal type

        polysynthetic incoporating = verbal type

Ablautative: a language rich in a morphology consisting of consonantal roots with meaningful apophonic variations; examples: Hebrew, Arabic (for triconsonantal roots), and, perhaps, biconsonantal in PIE. Here, we have the phonology and morphology as one!

NOTE: This is another type not mentioned by Schleicher. I put it on the same evolutionary level as with the isolative. Whereas isolative languages is language developing with syntax being primary, here language is coming into being with phonology being primary. This is an alternative beginning, just like the “verbal type” is an alternative type to the fusional type.