David AdgerApr 26, 2014
A Syntax of Substance
MIT Press 2013
Nouns are the bread and butter of linguistic analysis, and it's easy not to reflect too hard on what they actually are and how they work. In A Syntax of Substance(MIT Press, 2013), David Adger tackles this question, as well as others that are just as fundamental to the way we think about syntax. The book takes nouns to specify "substances", and Adger defends the view that nouns, unlike verbs, never take arguments. Moreover, he marshals evidence to show that some of the constituents that have been traditionally taken to be arguments of nouns, such as the PP "of Mary" in "the picture of Mary", are actually not that closely connected to the noun syntactically at all. But the book's not just about nouns: it presents a radically innovative way of building and labelling phrase structure within Minimalism, denying the existence of functional heads and allowing unary branching trees.
In this interview we talk about the differences between nouns and verbs, and the evidence for this difference from a variety of languages, in particular Scottish Gaelic. After outlining the theoretical machinery that David deploys in order to account for these facts, we then move on to discuss the status of hierarchies of functional categories and the implications of this new syntactic system for cross-linguistic variation, grammaticalization, and the evolution of language.