Specializations > Morphosyntax

Evidence for Universality of TP, DP, etc.


Malay and Mandarin are languages that do not have morphological tense and inflection and Japanese is one that does not have determiners. What evidence is there to say that TP/IP/DP are universal? This also raises the question of what caregory to use in syntactic representation, i.e. what projection to use instead of TP/IP to harbour the subject of a clause. I can imagine the answer going along the lines of…

“Although Malay/Mandarin doesn’t have morphological tense, it still does have time reference and tense in the semantics of an event/clause and the same is so in all languages.”

… but I’m not entirely sure. If anyone could point me towards any literature arguing the universality of these categories, that’d be great.

Does this mean you think that Malay (for example) cannot for expressions referring to time? If you grant that "time" is a concept that can be expressed in Malay, that means it is in the semantics of Malay, somehow, and therefore it has a syntactic correlate. Not that I actually believe that, but that is the basic assumption of current nano-semantics, as I understand it.  If you are familiar with generative semantics, the fundamental assumptions are pretty much the same, and are based on a universal notion of "human thought".

As for Universality of T.P ,D.P etc ,the fact is that there isnt any conclusive proof that these categories are Universal. On the contrary, there are claims in the literature that certain languages lack certain categories ( for eg. the claims of Jayaseelan,K.A  that    T.P is  in Malayalam  , the absence of D.P in Japanese(N.Fukui ?) etc.) .But ,still most of the   researchers does not fully endorse their views.

There is no consensus, and opinions vary a lot with different theoretical approaches:
--For older Generative approaches (for example, Government & Binding), the assumption would be that languages have exactly the same structures (with some variation based on different parameter settings).
--For current Minimalist approaches to Generative syntax, labels are less important, and structure is freer, determined only by Merge, features, and whatever other (minimal!) assumptions a particular iteration of the theory makes.
--And of course for something like Construction Grammar, there is no assumption (or maybe even no possibility) that different languages have the same structures.

So, in short, it depends!

But regarding these specific points, you'll find quite a bit of research if you search for it regarding TP and DP specifically. "Tenseless" is a keyword that will bring up a lot of results if you also combine that with other Generative keywords. Whether any truly tenseless languages exist is currently an ongoing debate, and while conceptually an interesting one, it isn't clear to me that different researchers are really making the same claims or maybe just talking past each other when they argue about it.
It might be a little harder to find the papers about DP, but they're definitely out there.

Summary: my advice is to not look for broad overviews (because either you won't find them or you'll find opinions biased by theoretical assumptions) and instead look for papers specifically about TP and DP cross-linguistically. It's an active topic of research now.


Some quick search results:
On TP you could start here with some references about "tenselessness" but be sure to get a variety of sources because this is an open, and often debated, topic:

On DP, for example:
Again, researchers disagree about whether languages vary in this regard, as well as whether individual languages are always consistent in using NP or DP or might mix them.

@panini No. Malay does indeed have expressions referring to time, as do most (if not all) languages, which is why I presented:

--- Quote from: Morphosyntax on April 25, 2018, 05:50:07 AM ---
“Although Malay/Mandarin doesn’t have morphological tense, it still does have time reference and tense in the semantics of an event/clause and the same is so in all languages.”

--- End quote ---

I'm just asking this question to prepare myself if someone else asks the same question when they see me using a TP for Malay.

The idea of syntax-semantics correlates is useful too. Although some languages do not have overt focus markers, it isn't wrong to assume that they have FocP, provided that there is focus in the semantics of the language or focus movement is evident, etc. so by that analogy TPs in morphologically tenseless languages isn't such a bad idea.

I'm not entirely sure if/how this can work with DPs in Japanese though. I guess we could just stick to the assumption that, typologically speaking, since other languages have DP, Japanese should have it too, like how certain linguists assume that proper nouns in English are DPs instead of bare NPs because proper nouns in Greek are definite descriptions with overt determiners, e.g. "O Petros" -- "the Peter".

@Daniel Thanks for the references!


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