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Auteur: Ermenegildo BIDESE

Co-Auteur(s): Andrea PADOVAN, University of Verona, Italy Alessandra TOMASELLI, University of Verona, Italy

Why generative linguistics does resist the concept of Protolanguage

Abstract/Résumé: The notion of protolanguage (PL) has characterized the debate on language origin and evolution in the past two decades. Within the generative framework, Rizzi (2010) has proposed to widen the range of the syntactic operation Merge (M) which was first introduced as core device of the faculty of language (Chomsky 1995) proposing a finer-grained articulation of it in a three-stage complexity scale: 1. Primary M (head-head M) = two words stage; 2. Recursive M (head-phrase M) = head-complement stage; 3. Phrasal M (phrase-phrase M) = specifier-head stage + movement. Conceiving M in terms of a complexity scale allows us to identify the first two stages as the precursors of the human language faculty in a proper sense making the notion of PL compatible with the generative view. In our contribution we delve into the M-based complexity scale, ending up with the question as to what the first step of this scale looks like. In fact, we take the ingredients belonging to Phrasal M to be effective from the outset. A two-word combination is not the mere sum of two elements but implies hierarchy and hence, potentially, the mechanism of recursion. In our perspective, it is the rise of Functional Categories (FC) that distinguishes between non-language and language: even within a M-based complexity scale the simplest version of M must already imply the head or the selector/determiner. The real question is how FCs suddenly arose as soon as M became available. What we focus on is the role of a third element/position per se, which breaks the symmetry of Primary M and leads to the explosion of fuctional elements. Even when two elements combine a subset of FCs must be there to break the symmetry of “two-word” combinations. In conclusion, the decomposition of M remains an interesting theoretical speculation without any relevant consequence with respect to the definition of PL.