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Head-marking languages and linguistic theory


Van Valin Jr.,  Robert D.
Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Heinrich Heine University;
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York;

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Van Valin Jr., R. D. (2013). Head-marking languages and linguistic theory. In B. Bickel, L. A. Grenoble, D. A. Peterson, & A. Timberlake (Eds.), Language typology and historical contingency: In honor of Johanna Nichols (pp. 91-124). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

In her path-breaking 1986 paper, Johanna Nichols proposed a typological contrast between head-marking and dependent-marking languages. Nichols argues that even though the syntactic relations between the head and its dependents are the same in both types of language, the syntactic “bond” between them is not the same; in dependent-marking languages it is one of government, whereas in head-marking languages it is one of apposition. This distinction raises an important question for linguistic theory: How can this contrast – government versus apposition – which can show up in all of the major phrasal types in a language, be captured? The purpose of this paper is to explore the various approaches that have been taken in an attempt to capture the difference between head-marked and dependent-marked syntax in different linguistic theories. The basic problem that head-marking languages pose for syntactic theory will be presented, and then generative approaches will be discussed. The analysis of head-marked structure in Role and Reference Grammar will be presented