Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hudson on Zwicky on heads

As you can see, I've been reading Hudson's on syntactic relations. In his 1987 paper, like the others, it’s hard to judge the arguments because I don’t have a view of the whole system that he's working in. As so many linguists do, he suggests a few items and leaves it to the reader to imagine the complete set he has in mind. Nevertheless, my impression is of very interested data, opportunistically deployed: lots of cherry picking going on here. Not that others don’t do the same. 
Take for example,
One relevant fact about these determiners is that they have sole responsibility
for marking person (relevant, for instance, to choice of reflexive pronouns: You children must behave yourselves/*themselves). Likewise they alone mark 'case' -the difference between subject and object forms. For example, we students contrasts with us students (at least in some varieties): We/*us students work hard, vs. The government is against us/*we students. In contrast, common nouns indicate nothing about either person or case. (p. 122)
I don’t know if this observation has been previously made, but it is arresting and not something I’d come across before (though Matthews cites Hudson on p. 70 of Syntactic relations).
It’s also a marginal case. A COCA query for to [a*]/[d*] students, returns 2,558 hits, almost half of them being to the students. There isn’t a single instance of to you/us students. In fact, the BNC has no instances of you students at all (COCA has eight) and only one of us students (COCA has 14). If you'd like a visual, consider this:

These marginal cases are not to be dismissed, but nor should they be the primary basis on which to build an argument.
Hudson also points out just enough to make his point and then moves on without mentioning other important facts: this you is quite unlike “intransitive” personal pronouns in that it can be modified (e.g., all/both you students). He doesn’t consider the possibility that you belongs to a distinct category, again, because I think he has one notion of “determiner” that applies here to categories and there to functions.
I think his point that common nouns indicate nothing about person is simply wrong. They don’t have any morphological marking, but neither does you for that matter. It just is second person, and common nouns just are third. We can see that in agreement with verbs and reflexive pronouns. That a you determiner would override that is fascinating, but it doesn’t mean common nouns indicate nothing about person. When it comes to case, the determinative you can’t do anything about the genitive (You guys' sister is getting married, not *your guys sister is getting married.)
Hudson, Richard A. 1987. Zwicky on heads. Journal of Linguistics 23(1). 109–132.
Matthews, Peter Hugoe. 2007. Syntactic relations: A critical survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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