Monday, November 13, 2017

Detail #360: Fun With Complementizers

Complementizers appear as heads of all clauses in some theories of syntax. In most theories of syntax, they are also at least the heads of subclauses. The idea in some theories, is that something similar to that in "I knew that she likes Victorian-era comedy" even appears as a null morpheme in the onset (or somewhere else) even of main clauses.

Now, in some languages similar things genuinely appear in some clauses, and I wouldn't be surprised if such a thing even appears in all clauses in some language out there. One common such 'main clause complementizer' is the question marker.

Here appears a thing I've seldom seen conlangers do: force complementizers to appear in certain situations with main clauses, but not in others. Maybe negative clauses require a complementizer, maybe certain kinds of statements require them.

As for 'certain kinds of statements', in Swedish, 'att' (similar to English 'that' as a complementizer) sometimes introduces a clause (whose word order then is like that of subclauses), without any main clause, where the statement expresses disdain, admiration or agreement for a fact thus stated:
att han törs!(that) he dares!
how dare he?

att hon gör!
(that) she does!
she sure does!
Using complementizers occasionally or regularly for main clauses can be an interesting way of enriching one's syntax as well. One hypothesis regarding verb fronting as a way of marking questions is that the verb actually moves to the zero morpheme question complementizer, and thus is a sort of realization of that complementizer. This of course changes details in the word order. One could have the language sometimes force the subject or object into the C position, and this would change other word order details. Maybe moving the subj to the C position breaks reflexive binding? Maybe it breaks verb congruence? Maybe moving the object breaks transitivity, making a transitive subject marked absolutive (if the language is ergative).

Of course, the presence of an explicit, non-zero complementizer could, as in Swedish, force subclause word order, if there is a difference between these in the language. Thus maybe all negative clauses have subclause word order?

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