Thursday, October 04, 2012

Dressing an Octopus (cross-posting)

Just completed these three paragraphs in the revised Preface. I hope they improve things. Comments welcome.

With respect to the former goal, I hope to demonstrate that a generative, universalist approach to Vietnamese grammar can be genuinely elucidating: that the concepts and constructs of Universal Grammar[1], which have been postulated as part of a top-down, hypothetico-deductive strategy, and largely on the basis of (sometimes abstruse) data from a limited range of Western languages—that such concepts can be applied productively to the analysis of Vietnamese as well. What’s more, I will argue that Vietnamese can be shown to express these properties more directly, and more clearly, than is the case in more synthetic or fusional languages. Developing the ‘transparent onion’ analogy in the prefatory quote above,  I shall claim that what is most remarkable about Vietnamese are the formal properties it shares with other unrelated language varieties, including English and French. What makes Vietnamese special is not, I will suggest,  the properties that distinguish it from other language, but rather its unique capacity to express commonalities with such phenomenal clarity.
A reason for stressing this point is to acknowledge that many—perhaps most—scholars of Vietnamese are highly sceptical of ahistorical formal approaches to grammatical analysis, especially those based on English and French. Often, this scepticism is justified by reference to previous treatments in which Vietnamese has been analyzed directly in terms of Western surface categories or constructions; for example, an analysis that identifies the TAM markers (sẽ, đã and đang) as Tense morphemes, or one that equates null subject in Vietnamese with those in Italian or Spanish. One can always fit a square peg through a round hole if the diameter of the circle is large enough, but that doesn’t make it a good fit. In other cases, certain real or hypothetical attempts to impose Western-derived analytical constructs can appear preposterous: to seek to explain the behaviour of the modal-aspectual particle đựơc in terms of a construction-based analysis of the English or French Passive, for example, almost entirely misses the point. One can dress an octopus in a t-shirt for the sake of propriety, but little is gained by it and the problem of the other six legs remains.
Whichever metaphor is more useful, it is a fact that many linguistic scholars have rejected generative theory in the past, and that historical or functional explanations are to the fore in contemporary grammatical research. But this is to ‘throw the baby [square peg, octopus] out with the bath-water.’ In this work, I hope to make the case that—at the right level of abstraction—Vietnamese fits not just well, but nearly perfectly, into a universal template: it is the other object languages of grammatical theorising that require prodding and shuffling about. When viewed from this opposite perspective, the Generative Enterprise (as it once was called) becomes not only more attractive, but empowering: if Vietnamese offers a model of perfection, then one can ask a different set of questions: why don’t other languages seem to work so well? This brings us to my second goal, viz., to understand what Vietnamese tells us about the details of UG.

[1] At least, of a particular construal of UG; see Chapter 2

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More on Chapter One

Another 10 or so pages completed on Chapter 1, plus some revisions of earlier material in the chapter.

Click here to download pdf

Friday, December 16, 2011

Monograph Forthcoming? Yes!

Though progress at times may seem almost glacially slow, I continue to work on the chapters of a monograph that may one day be completed. Over the last months, I have continued work on Chapter 1—a Descriptive Sketch. Click on the link below for the latest version of Part 1 of this chapter (alternatively go to the Monograph page link at top)

Click to download pdf

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unpeeling an onion: what Vietnamese tells us about the lexicon-syntax interface (crossposting)

Last week, I had the great fortune to attend the International Conference on Linguistics Training and Research in Vietnam, held at USSH, VNU, Hanoi. My first visit to Vietnam, I hope the first of many. During my stay, I was able to give two presentations. I'm posting the slides from the first colloquium talk, which will be written up more fully shortly (and essentially a synopsis of Chapter 1 of the elusive, but not quite mythical, monograph). In the meantime, there should be enough on the slides to make for useful reading. If you have comments or questions—about Vietnamese syntax, though not about onions—please get in touch.

Click to view presentation

(I've replaced the html version with a pdf file, which should be easier to read)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Update: June 2011

Please note that revised versions of several chapters of the monograph are now available.
To access these, click on the links of this page:

Monday, December 13, 2010


Although I have not posted on this site for a long time, I have nevertheless been active, publishing a number of theoretical articles in journals and edited volumes that I hope are accurate and informative. Pre-publication drafts of these articles will shortly appear as new posts.

More interestingly, perhaps (as there is still the opportunity to advise me of my errors and help to improve the work!) I have recently been working fairly continuously on draft chapters of a new theoretical monograph on Vietnamese phrase-structure: Close to Perfect: Particles and Projections in Vietnamese Syntax [working title], which I aim to complete by June next year. This monograph consists of a Preface, followed by three main sections: the first containing a preliminary description of Vietnamese phrase-structure (based on the Vietnamese Online Grammar Project; the second, a theoretical discussion of some issues in formal syntax, in which I try to synthesize core Minimalism with alternative approaches to Minimalist grammar, and to bring this synthesis to bear on Vietnamese data; the third, offering a selection of revised articles, in which I analyze some of the more interesting properties of Vietnamese grammar.

As soon as I can overcome some formatting issues, my intention is to publish drafts of these chapters as posts on a new related site. Please check it out, and send me any comments you have.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

VOG Update: Mood and Modality

Just completed first draft of the English introduction to the section on mood and modality. More work is necessary-and of course-the Vietnamese data are still missing, but it's a start

Introduction to Mood and Modality