Against information structure heads: A relational analysis of German scrambling

Volker Struckmeier
2017 Glossa  
This article argues against cascades of information-structural functional heads in the German middle field as an explanation for scrambling movements. Instead, we argue, some instances of scrambling correlate with sentence-level semantic effects, whereas other word order changes are affected by prosody and do not have any interpretative effects. An alternative architecture for scrambling is developed, which takes into account the clear empirical differences between these different subtypes of
more » ... erent subtypes of what is summarily called 'scrambling'. In this architecture, syntax underspecifies word order and is ignorant of information structure. The apparent interaction of word order, semantic interpretations and discourse is explained by an interface architecture that licenses word orders on the basis of their syntactic, semantic and prosodic (but not information structural) properties. Glossa general linguistics a journal of Struckmeier, Volker. 2017. Against information structure heads: a relational analysis of German scrambling. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 2(1): 1. 1-29, DOI: Struckmeier: Against information structure heads Art. 1, page 2 of 29 In contemporary research, many technical aspects of these information structure-driven movements have been called into question. To name but one, the connection between feature licensing and movement is essentially stipulated in current generative theory, since features are not necessarily licensed locally. Instead, the operation Agree can value features across long (if limited) structural distances. Unlike in previous implementations of movement via specifier-head relations, therefore, movement need not be invoked in the explanation of agreeing feature sets. In the new system, movement is therefore stipulated by the addition of an EPP feature to the other agreeing features. The EPP essentially just stipulates that the agreement goal will move. However, this stipulation jars with the empirical facts in the case of optional movements. Here, only the EPP feature's ad libitum presence and absence can be stipulated, essentially depriving the EPP approach of most of its predictive power. However, in some cases, even this approach does not do justice to some word order phenomena. With German scrambling, subtle preferences and dispreferences exist for certain word orders in certain contexts. Featuredriven movement analyses, therefore, had to accept from the start that their predictions were always a bit rough around the edges. Movement could be enforced for certain information structure categories -but the fact that those movements were actually only preferred options, rather than obligatory operations, was never really represented in the model at all. 1 Scrambling, and related word order phenomena, furthermore display a tendency for parallel movements to take place. In Dutch, for example, arguments can scramble across adverbials and other material, but the scrambled arguments do not readily change their order relative to each other. In object-shift languages, similar parallel movements are observed, and even in German, parallel movements are the most unmarked option for scrambling (cf., e.g., Müller 2001; Putnam 2007)although not the only one, as we have seen above. Again, feature-driven movements cannot replicate this state of affairs all too convincingly: Meinunger (2000) proposes, for example, to equip the information structural target positions with Case-licensing features, so that the base order of arguments (in German, subject > indirect object > direct object 2 ) is replicated in the left middle field. However, this representation falls short of the fact that other orders, albeit more marked, are possible. To add additional Case-marked target positions, to cater to the more marked word order options, however, is no solution. Under that analysis, word order is predicted to be 'free' again, since syntactic derivations then generate both marked and unmarked orders as completely equally well-formed. Last, but not least, cartographic analyses would border precariously on circularity theoretically even if they did make the right predictions empirically. Although some authors seem to assume that adding a target position for a certain type of movement constitutes an explanation for the movement, massive doubts can be raised against this general type of 'explanation': Suppose that we find that an argument with a property x moves to a certain position. We therefore stipulate a target position, XP, which attracts the displaced x-argument to its specifier. This allows us to represent the distribution of the x-argument, but not to truly explain it, we insist. After all, why should XP be located where it is, rather than anywhere else in the structure? Cross-linguistically, why is it that x should be a relevant factor for word order in the language under discussion -when x-arguments simply do not share a uniform How to cite this article: Struckmeier, Volker. 2017. Against information structure heads: A relational analysis of German scrambling. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 2(1): 1. 1-29, DOI: https://doi.
doi:10.5334/gjgl.56 fatcat:ku6b76r7v5a6vekaomh4zckm3e