The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/18 - Anna Maria Di Sciullo

Speaker: Anna Maria Di Sciullo
Title: An Evolutionary Developmental Constraint
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct 18, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

A striking fact in the development of the nominal extended projection in Indo-European languages is that while pre and post nominal positions for a functional category are possible in earlier stages of the languages, only one position is available in later stages. This phenomenon is neither language specific nor category specific. It can be observed in the development of prepositions in the Indo-European languages, in the emergence of the definite determiner form Old to Modern Romanian, as well as in the development of the possessive adjectives from Ancient to Modern Greek and from Latin to Romance languages. I raise the question of why this is the case. I argue that this phenomenon is the consequence of the Head Initial/Final Constraint, which I take to be an evolutionary developmental universal. The HI/FC is an instance of the Directional Asymmetry hypothesis, according to which language evolution is symmetry breaking. It differs from Greenberg’s universals as they express a characteristic of languages as they evolve and it contributes to reduce derivational complexity.