Constituency as a Language Universal: The Case of Latin

Carlo Cecchetto (Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca), Renato Oniga (Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università degli Studi di Udine)


The main goal of this paper is to show that the flexible word order of Latin does not prevent us from fruitfully applying to Latin a set of constituency tests that have been developed in modern linguistics. Particularly, we will show that, when the concept of constituent is correctly defined, it effectively applies to Latin. We will do so by comparing English, a rigid word order language, Italian, a more flexible word order language, and Latin, which is even more flexible. This paper is organized as follows: in section 1, we offer a brief introduction on the current theoretical debate on the topic. In section 2, we argue that constituents may be formed by words that are not contiguous, at least in languages with a flexible word order. In section 3, we discuss various tests that identify VP and TP as possible constituents in Latin: these tests include pro-form substitution, ellipsis and fragment answers. Section 4 discusses tests to identify the CP layer as a constituent: these include pro-form substitution and extraposition. In the same section we deal with a possible complication arising from the use of pro-form substitution as a constituency test but we also show that it does not affect the cases we discuss. Our conclusion in Section 5 is that since constituents may be discontinuous in Latin (as in other languages), they may not be easy to identify, but they do exist.

DOI: 10.4424/lam32014-1


Latin language; Word order; Syntax; Constituency test.

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