Nouns and Iconicity of Distance: When Syntactic Proximity to the Noun Mirrors Semantic Closeness

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This paper argues that certain syntactic phenomena, namely CONSTITUENCY, a subset of the GREENBERGIAN WORD ORDER CORRELATIONS, and SCOPING, i.e., placement of adnominal modifiers according to their scopal relations, can be attributed to diachronic developments driven by cognitive processes where speakers attempt to place together what belongs together (‘iconicity of distance’). The synchronic result of these historical processes was already captured by Behaghel’s first law (1932: 4): ‘The principal law is this: that what belongs together mentally is also placed close together’ (Das oberste Gesetz ist dieses, daß das geistig eng Zusammengehörige auch eng zusammengestellt wird).
Three more specific ordering principles can be formulated on the basis of Behaghel’s first law: (i) the PRINCIPLE OF DOMAIN INTEGRITY, which can ultimately lead to the formation of hierarchically organized syntactic units (‘constituency’), (ii) the PRINCIPLE OF HEAD PROXIMITY, which may explain certain Greenberg-type word order correlations, and (iii) the PRINCIPLE OF SCOPE, which accounts for global ordering tendencies among adnominal modifiers in hierarchically structured noun phrases. It will be argued that these ordering principles are formal manifestations of a single cognitive motivation or ‘diachronic force’ which is deemed to facilitate language processing: ICONICITY OF DISTANCE.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNouns and the Morphosyntax / Semantics Interface
EditorsLaure Gardelle, Elise Mignot, Julie Neveaux
Number of pages54
Place of publicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication dateMar 2024
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-44560-6, 978-3-031-44563-7
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-44561-3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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