ERIC Number: ED184373
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1977-Feb
Reference Count: 0
Ambiguity-Avoidance: A Universal Constraint on Extraction from NP Sequences.
Sweetser, Eve E.
This research deals with how extraction rules are constrained in cases where their unconstrained application would give rise to semantic ambiguity. Of particular concern is the application of extraction rules to noun phrases (NP's) where word order is the only indication of the different syntactic functions of two adjacent NP's. Samples from German, Icelandic, Tzotzil and Navajo are examined in a search for the universal basis for the constraint. Cross-linguistically, the universal constraint is independent of language-particular word order. It is dependent on the subjecthood/definiteness correlation. Subjects must be definite and objects indefinite to be extractable. This constraint is a functional one; it uses universal linguistic tendencies to construct a perceptual strategy for the univocal comprehension of what would otherwise be ambiguous. Any meaningful formulation of this constraint must be able: (1) to state the constraint in terms of grammatical relations rather than in terms of word order, and (2) to deal explicitly with the teleological nature of the constraint. When a language needs to develop a constraint to avoid ambiguity, it can freeze universal tendencies into requirements. This constraint may contribute a possible definition of universal subjecthood. (PMJ)
Descriptors: Ambiguity, German, Grammar, Language Research, Language Universals, Navajo, Sentence Structure, Syntax, Tzotzil, Word Order
Berkeley Linguistics Society, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 ($8.20 for Entire Proceedings).
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Icelandic; Subject Constraints
Note: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (3rd, Berkeley, CA, February 19-21, 1977).