We made the case in the episode that English sentences are in a one-to-one relationship with inflection, in the same way a noun phrase (NP) always has a noun in it, or a verb phrase (VP) always has a verb. This means each sentence is, at minimum, an inflectional phrase — an IP. And then we discussed how French data makes that more complex. But we didn’t get to unpack that fully, and so we wanted to discuss it more, full of lots of trees. Which made this long, so check under here for more:
So in the episode, we discussed how the way verbs move around inside sentences in French suggests there’s even more going on than just a plain IP:
(1a) Ne pas sembler heureux est une condition pour écrire des romans.
‘Not to seem happy is a prerequisite for writing novels.’
(1b) *Ne sembler pas heureux est une condition pour écrire des romans.
‘To seem not happy is a prerequisite for writing novels.’
In (1) above, it’s clear that the untensed verb “sembler” can follow negation “pas”, but can’t precede it. However, these same sorts of verbs can either follow or precede adverbs.
(2a) Souvent paraître triste pendant son voyage de noce, c’est rare.
‘To often look sad during one’s honeymoon is rare.’
(2b) Paraître souvent triste pendant son voyage de noce, c’est rare.
‘To look often sad during one’s honeymoon is rare.’
So it looks like there’s a spot where tenseless verbs can land when moving around in a sentence, lying just below negation and just above adverbs. And while we don’t see as dramatic an effect in English (since verb movement is a bit more restricted), auxiliary verbs can show up between negation and adverbs in the same way main verbs do in French. This pattern seems to cut across languages.
(3) Hajj claimed to not have intentionally altered the photo
At the end of the episode, we supposed this position was related to verbal agreement, but this might sound a bit strange when you consider how the French verb for “eat” is regularly conjugated into the future tense.
(4) Je mang + er + ai ‘I will eat.’
Tu mang + er + as ‘You will eat.’
Nous mang + er + ons ‘We will eat.’
To express the sentence “I/you/we will eat” in French, the verb root “mang” is inflected with the suffix “-er.” However, the result of that combination is further inflected for person and number agreement with the subject pronoun. But if clauses are ultimately tense phrases (TPs), with an agreement phrase (AgrP) of some kind sitting in between that and the verb phrase, we should actually expect the opposite.
If French verbs generally move out of the verb phrase and up into a higher part of the sentence, “collecting” suffixes along the way, you would think it would run into the agreement phrase first, if this is really what clauses look like:
It looks like the verb should have to “pass through” agreement first, before climbing higher to combine with the tense suffix. So, we should be seeing the pattern in (5).
(5) Je mang + ai + er
Tu mang + as + er
Nous mang + ons + er
But we never do. If anything, according to how the verb “manger” conjugates in (4), our picture of what clauses are should look more like this, with things turned around:
This tree at least gives us the right order. This way, verbs combine with their tense suffixes first, and then go on to agree with the subject. But this brings us back to square one: what’s between negation and adverbs? One way to resolve the paradox is to suppose that there are, in fact, two different kinds of agreement — subject agreement and object agreement. If there has to be a subject agreement phrase (AgrSP) above the tense position in our tree, so that we can make sense of the order that the suffixes come in, maybe there’s also an object agreement phrase (AgrOP), lower down.
A fuller picture of what the structure for a sentence like “Je mangerai pas souvent” (I will not eat often) appears below:
With the verb then scurrying up the tree to collect all of its suffixes, giving us the right word order:
Now in French, that empty object agreement phrase doesn’t do much more than just sit around most of the time, waiting for the occasional tenseless verb to drop by for a visit. But other languages with richer morphology have both subject and object agreement. In Basque, the verbal root “kar” (carry) begins with the suffix “g-” indicating agreement with the subject “guk” (we); it also contains the suffix “-zki,” which marks agreement with the object “haiek” (them).
(6) Guk haiek g-ene-kar-zki-en
‘We carried them.’
And French does seem to make use of it — at least, on occasion. Take the plural, feminine object “tables” in (7). When it moves up into a higher part of the tree, like in a question, it can end up agreeing with the verb instead of the subject. And that’s more evidence these structures really do exist inside of our sentences, dealing with grammatical features likes agreement and tense.
(7) Combien de tables Paul a repeintes?
‘How many tables did Paul repaint?’
It’s worth pointing out that there’s even more going on than we’ve had time to talk about, here — especially when you consider more complex sentences, containing two or more clauses. There’s also continued debate over exactly how universal these structures are, and what order they come in. But it’s clear that our more basic picture of sentences as simple inflectional phrases can’t do the job by itself. So, stay tuned for further developments! ^_^
So how about it? What do you all think? Let us know below, and we’ll be happy to talk with you about how clauses came to look the way they do today, and where they may go from here. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to say, and we want to hear what interests you!
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