Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Little Words

Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

Ronald P. Leow
Héctor Campos
Donna Lardiere
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Little Words
    Book Description:

    Little Words is an interdisciplinary examination of the functions and change in the use of clitics, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, discourse particles, auxiliary/light verbs, prepositions, and other "little words" that have played a central role in linguistic theory and in language acquisition research. Leading scholars present advanced research in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, discourse function, historical development, variation, and acquisition by children and adults. This unique volume integrates the views and findings of these different research areas into one professional source to be used within and across disciplines. Languages studied include English, Spanish, French, Romanian, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Slavonic, and Medieval Leonese.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-596-8
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “LITTLE WORDS”—items such as clitics, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, discourse particles, auxiliary/light verbs, prepositions, and so on—have been the focus of investigation in many research areas that include phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse function, historical development, variation, and acquisition. The unique purpose of GURT 2007 was to bring these different research areas into one professional conference that would promote discussion, both cross-disciplinary and within a single discipline, during the course of the event. To reflect the broad disciplinary scope of GURT 2007, Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition is divided into six parts that...


    • 2 From “Two” to “Both”: Historical Changes in the Syntax and Meaning of Oba in Slavic
      (pp. 9-20)

      WE MAKE THE NOVEL OBSERVATION that Old Church Slavonic (OCS) oba, the historical counterpart of the modern Slavic “both,” meant simply “two.” We propose an account of the syntactic reanalysis of oba and the accompanying change in its meaning and discuss the broader implications of our findings.

      The grammatical descriptions of OCS (e.g., Huntley 1993; Lunt 2001) as well as dictionaries and glossaries consistently give the meaning of oba as “both.”¹ This is probably so for two reasons: oba does mean “both” in the modern Slavic languages, and the meanings of “both” and “two” overlap and are difficult to distinguish...

    • 3 When Small Words Collide: Morphological Reduction and Phonological Compensation in Old Leonese Contractions
      (pp. 21-34)

      THE PHENOMENON of the grammaticalization of lexical words into function words has received much attention in various fields of linguistics (Hopper and Traugott 1993, among numerous works). While grammaticalization usually results in the phonological reduction of the words in question, this reduction does not usually lead to the loss of semantic recoverability. However, function words are inherently phonologically short, so any reduction resulting from grammaticalization would incur a proportionally greater loss to the surface realization of their meaning. An example of such grammaticalization comes from Medieval Leonese, and a close analysis of this data suggests that, as function words are...


    • 4 Distinguishing Function Words from Content Words in Children’s Oral Reading
      (pp. 37-46)

      BY THE TIME they enter first grade, children acquiring language in a home where English is spoken typically show the English prosodic pattern in which content words receive stress but function words do not. However, when some of these children read text aloud, it is perceived as choppy, awkward, and word-by-word, without meaningful phrasal groupings and lacking appropriate expression, as if they are reading a word list (Weber 2006). A major factor contributing to the impression of word-by-word reading appears to be the lack of a stress distinction between content words and function words.

      To investigate this interpretation, we performed...

    • 5 Motivating Floating Quantifiers
      (pp. 47-58)

      THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN information structure and prosody on the one hand, and the placement of “little words” on the other, is being explored in many languages in relationship to many different linguistic phenomena. In this chapter floating quantifiers (FQs) are shown to be a prime example of little words that are influenced by both prosody and information structure.¹ FQs in English are of particular interest because they are among a minority of elements that display some freedom in their placement in this fixed word-order language. This chapter investigates the relationship between FQs, information structure, and prosody and shows that FQs...


    • 6 Applicative Phrases Hosting Accusative Clitics
      (pp. 61-74)

      IN THIS CHAPTER I offer an explanation for the puzzling behavior exhibited in certain environments by a particular class of standard Spanish “little words”: accusative pronominal clitics. Those environments derive from the presence of a special sort of Spanish verbs that I will call “ayudar-verbs”; they are illustrated in (1):

      (1) Ana ayudó / perjudicó / molestó a la chica.

      “Ana helped / harmed / bothered the girl.”

      Ayudar-verbs resemble standard dyadic monotransitives in the sense that they manifest a single internal object bearing accusative case. Accusative case assignment is evidenced in (2), where the object of (1) is substituted...

    • 7 The Little DE of Degree Constructions
      (pp. 75-86)

      THIS CHAPTER ANALYZES one function of the Romanian “little word” de. I claim that it serves as a morphosyntactic exponent in degree constructions. The first two sections illustrate problematic outcomes for a standard (universal) representation of degree constructions employing diagnostics used, for example, in Beck, Oda, and Sugisaki (2004). The next two sections discuss the pertinent morphosyntactic properties of Romanian and the paradox arising from a positive setting for degrees as far as the basic morphological and syntactic facts of the language are concerned together with some apparent negative outcomes, for example, in questions and subcomparatives. The paradox is resolved...

    • 8 The Complementizer The
      (pp. 87-98)

      THIS CHAPTER CONCERNS comparative correlatives [in (1) and (2)] and the “little word” the that obligatorily begins both phrases/clauses. The syntactic structure of such expressions is far from apparent.

      (1) The more a student studies, the better grades she will receive

      (2) The longer the storm lasts, the worse the damage is

      A comparative correlative looks like two nominals, obligatorily headed by the determiner the, with no clear indication of what the relationship between these two “nominals” is. English comparative correlatives consist of two phrases, no more and no less, as seen in (3) through (5). This characteristic is not...

    • 9 What Is There When Little Words Are Not There?: Possible Implications for Evolutionary Studies
      (pp. 99-108)

      THE GOAL OF THIS CHAPTER is to provide a theoretical argument, using the tools of the syntactic framework of minimalism (e.g., Chomsky 1995), that certain small clauses (syntactic objects with no or few “little words”), which can be found in root contexts as well as in other unexpected uses, may represent “living fossils” from a root smallclause stage in language evolution (see Jackendoff 2002 for the idea of syntactic fossils). In addition to the root small-clause stage, the clausal development may also have gone through a protocoordination stage, on its way to developing specific functional categories. These claims are consistent...

    • 10 Spanish Personal a and the Antidative
      (pp. 109-118)

      SPANISH IS OFTEN CONSIDERED to have flexible word order. This flexibility extends to the relative placement of verbal complements in ditransitive clauses. A theme may precede a goal, appearing immediately to the right of the verb, as in (1a), or it may follow the goal, as in (1b). There is, however, an intriguing restriction on word order among complements. When the theme is a pronoun, the goal cannot be placed between the theme and the verb, as seen in (2).

      (1) a. Miguel le entregó sus hijos a la niñera.

      Miguel give.past his children to the nanny

      “Miguel gave...


    • 11 Predicting Argument Realization from Oblique Marker Semantics
      (pp. 121-130)

      THIS CHAPTER DISCUSSES the role of adpositions and oblique cases (which I group under a single category P, excluding structural cases and their adpositional equivalents) in determining argument realization patterns across languages. Consider the Japanese data in (1) and their English translations, where English clear and Japanese katazukeru, “clear,” both take agent, theme, and source arguments, yet differ in how these arguments may be realized. In (1a) the theme is the object and the source is an oblique marked by from in English and –kara, “from,” in Japanese. In (1b) the source is the object, but only in English...

    • 12 Aspect Selectors, Scales, and Contextual Operators: An Analysis of by Temporal Adjuncts
      (pp. 131-142)

      MANY TEMPORAL ADJUNCTS select for specific aspectual classes; these adjuncts include measure adverbials such as for an hour and interval adverbials such as in an hour. While such adjuncts have traditionally served as diagnostics of telicity, it is only relatively recently that aspectual theorists have elucidated the relationship between the scalarsemantic meanings of these adjuncts and the internal structure of the event representations to which they apply (see Dowty 1979; Herweg 1991; Krifka 1998, among others). Krifka (1998) proposes that both measure adverbials and interval adverbials operate on representations that involve motion along a path. It seems entirely plausible that...

    • 13 Distributive Effects of the Plural Marker –tul in Korean
      (pp. 143-156)

      THE PLURAL MARKING PARTICLE –tul in Korean has drawn much attention in the literature because of its puzzling distributions. First, the particle basically attaches to a noun, as in (1), whose role is similar to the English plural suffix –s in that it indicates the plural entities denoted by that noun.¹

      (1) a. Ai-tul-i hakko-ey ka-ss-ta.

      Child-PL-Nom school-to go-Past-Dec

      “The children went to school.”

      b. Ku yeca-ka ai-tul-kwa hakko-ey ka-ss-ta.

      Dem woman-Nom child-PL-with school-to go-Past-Dec

      “That woman went to school with children.”

      Second, unlike the English plural suffix –s, the Korean plural marker –tul can also...


    • 14 The Pragmatics of the French Discourse Markers donc and alors
      (pp. 159-170)

      SPOKEN FRENCH relies heavily on a vast array of discourse markers, small words that help speakers in situating discourse at the referential, structural, interpersonal, and cognitive levels (Maschler 1998) and illustrating the import of pragmatics in interactions. This study focuses on the two French discourse markers donc and alors(both equivalent to the English so in some contexts) in native speaker conversations. Highly frequent in spontaneous speech, donc and alors represent important means of managing conversation. While several studies have shown that donc and alors express various discourse functions, the underlying assumption has been that they both broadly express consequence (i.e.,...

    • 15 “Little Words” in Small Talk: Some Considerations on the Use of the Pragmatic Markers man in English and macho/tío in Peninsular Spanish
      (pp. 171-182)

      PRAGMATIC MARKERS are linguistic forms that are very common and frequent in spontaneous conversation, and, as Carranza (1997) points out, they can signal not only some kind of attitude on the part of the speakers toward their interlocutor(s) but also the limits and relationships between different parts of the text or discourse.

      In this chapter I present, discuss, and analyze (both qualitatively and quantitatively) the different uses and discourse functions of the pragmatic markers man in English (E) and macho tío in Peninsular Spanish (PS), including some reflections on and analysis of their feminine counterpart (tía and “macha”) in Spanish....

    • 16 Little Words That Could Impact One’s Impression on Others: Greetings and Closings in Institutional E-mails
      (pp. 183-196)

      IN ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS, much of the interaction between students and professors occurs face-to-face—in class meetings and during office hours. Computer technology has, however, opened other communication venues in academia for which rules of interaction are less clearly defined, such as electronic mailing lists, discussion boards, chats, and electronic mail. While the former principally serve to enhance information distribution and unconventional course content delivery, e-mail has become a major alternative for students to consult with their professors (Biesenbach-Lucas 2005; Martin, Myers, and Mottet 1999). While Americans in general place value on egalitarianism, relationships between students and faculty in academic institutions...


    • 17 Instructed L2 Acquisition of Differential Object Marking in Spanish
      (pp. 199-210)

      IT IS WIDELY HELD that second language (L2) learners restructure their interlanguage grammars on the basis of input. But what form must input take to promote restructuring? Many studies find that input in the form of positive evidence is not sufficient for successful second language acquisition (SLA) and that some focus on language form is necessary to lead the learner to notice certain features of the input. That is, instructed L2 learners may benefit from some type of form-focused instruction, defined by Spada (1997, 73) as consisting of “events which occur within meaning-based approaches to L2 instruction in which a...

    • 18 The Role of Pedagogical Tasks and Focus on Form in Acquisition of Discourse Markers by Advanced Language Learners
      (pp. 211-222)

      RECENT LITERATURE has pointed to the inherent difficulty in reaching an advanced level of proficiency in a language in a classroom environment (see Byrnes and Maxim 2003; Byrnes, Weger-Guntharp, and Sprang 2006). One of the characteristics that defines advanced proficiency in a second/foreign language (L2) is the ability to produce speech/text at the discourse level, which involves a mastery of the cohesive devices inherent to discourse. Constructing L2 discourse involves the use of cohesive resources or discourse markers, both lexical (e.g., deictic markers such as all of this, that, etc.) and grammatical (e.g., conjunctions). Discourse markers are words or phrases...

    • 19 Article Acquisition in English, German, Norwegian, and Swedish
      (pp. 223-236)

      ARTICLE OMISSION is a well-documented phenomenon in early child speech. Interestingly, children differ in terms of how extensively they omit articles depending on their age and what language(s) they are exposed to. Different accounts have been proposed to account for this cross-linguistic variation. One of the most widely discussed models is the nominal mapping parameter (NMP), originally proposed in Chierchia (1998), which relates variation in child language to the syntactic and semantic properties of noun phrases across languages (e.g., Chierchia, Guasti, and Gualmini 1999; Guasti and Gavarró 2003; Guasti et al. 2004). Other influential accounts of determiner omission have been...

    • 20 A Continuum in French Children’s Surface Realization of Auxiliaries
      (pp. 237-246)

      A CENTRAL FOCUS of research in child language has been the acquisition of functional elements such as determiners and auxiliaries (see, e.g., Lust 2006, chap. 9, for a recent review). Early studies proposed that child speech is “telegraphic,” that is, it consists mostly of content words such as verbs and nouns, which are essential to communication, while usually lacking function words (e.g., Brown 1973). The following two examples from child English illustrate what is usually referred to as telegraphic speech; in parentheses are possible functional elements that would render these utterances targetlike.

      (1) (does) papa have it? (Eve I, Brown...