Constituent Order in Maltese.

JC sent me the link to “Constituent order in Maltese: A quantitative analysis,” by Slavomír Čéplö [in fact, his dissertation], with the comment “It’s not only well-written, it’s charming. And it trounces the Chomskyites good and proper, with much reference to Haspelmath. What’s not to like?” What indeed? (Slavo, of course, posts here as bulbul; if you do tweets, his are here.) Thanks, John!

Addendum. I should mention that all Hatters are thanked in the acknowledgments; see comment thread.


  1. This is LH post #7400.

  2. As every schoolboy knows, 7,400 has a total of 6 prime factors and 24 positive divisors.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    It’s his thesis! ^_^

    I’m very surprised to find myself in the acknowledgments (alongside, less surprisingly, present company).

  4. I might as well reproduce that bit here, since all Hatters are included:

    – to Steve ”languagehat” Dodson, Marie-Lucie ”m-l” Tarpent, John Cowan, John Emerson, David Marjanović, Christopher Culver, AJP Korona úr and all the Hatters for the innumerable examples of erudition that inspire me and keep me going

  5. Stu Clayton says:

    What distinguishes dissertation and thesis, apart from the spelling ? I think the latter precedes the former in being, time and dignity. But there are differences in terminology that depend on the country and the academic system, no ?

  6. Bulbul’s personality and no-nonsense calling out of bullshit shine through, although expressed more drily than some of his comments here. I liked this one (one of many):

    Chomsky resolves this conundrum by claiming that the rules of pragmatically determined variation in constituent order “are not so much rules of grammar as rules of performance” and while interesting, they have “no apparent bearing, for the moment, on the theory of grammatical structure” (Chomsky 1965).

    The moment in question did not last long and soon generativist works began to appear dealing with “the annoying problem that languages differ from one another”(Carnie 2013) in the ordering of the constituents.

  7. What distinguishes dissertation and thesis

    These days, in the U.S., Doctorate and Master’s.
    More generally—it’s complicated; you could write a whole… never mind.

  8. @Stu Clayton: Here at the University of South Carolina, we are officially supposed to refer to a doctoral thesis as a dissertation—and there are people in the administration who will pointed correct you if you use the wrong term. More generally, while “doctoral thesis” obviously sounds fine, I think “masters dissertation” doesn’t seem quite right; so I think I normally interpret dissertation as a synonym for a thesis specifically at the doctorate level.

  9. In Mongolia you write a диссертаци as part of a Masters. Probably from Russian, I guess.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    What distinguishes dissertation and thesis

    Theses have antis, whereas dissertations don’t.

  11. AJP Korona úr
    No one’s ever thanked me for my erudition before, bulbul, so it’s very nice to be thanked by one as smart, as well as as erudite, as yourself – úr being Mr in Hungarian (as well as from in Icelandic, apparently) – and in a dissertation, no less.. I’m forever in your debt.

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I wrote an undergraduate dissertation in Glasgow, and the UG students I now look after in Edinburgh do the same, as do the Masters students who belong to a different office. (Although when I looked after science students they did a project instead.)

    I would expect to hear about a PhD thesis, I think, so I seem to be the opposite of Brett!

    (úr is ‘new’ in Irish – it’s ùr in Gaelic – so maybe AJPC is a shiny new crown. This is why I always get confused about urtexts, though…)

  13. PlasticPaddy says:

    @bulbul (if you are reading this)
    Your modelling of predictability of pragmatic choice based on factors such as heaviness and utterance length within a grammatical category is interesting. Is there a complexity metric like average nesting or McCabe levels for software programs that you can use to distinguish “long but simple” texts from “long and complex” texts?

  14. Theses have antis, whereas dissertations don’t.

    Per contra, dissertations have consertations, or possibly just sertations.

    úr is ‘new’ in Irish – it’s ùr in Gaelic

    Do you know anything about the history of this orthographical split between acute and grave for length? I’ve always been curious about it.

    Úr is the Sindarin word for ‘heat, fire’; its Quenya equivalent úre had the same meaning, and was also used as the name of the letter for /w/. (Tolkien actually writes ûr as a way of indicating that long vowels were overlong in Sindarin monosyllables, but this was not a phonemic distinction.)

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I think it’s just bloodymindedness – not wanting to look like each other. But that could be unfair 🙂

  16. é and ó did used to be used in Scottish Gaelic, to represent /eː/, /oː/ while è, ò represented /ɛː/, /ɔː/, but the distinction has mostly been abandoned, in spite of being pretty useful. á was used for writing one preposition, not to indicate length, but to distinguish it from various particles written a and pronounced as schwa, if at all, but that’s usually à now.

    But bloodymindedness is my best guess, too.

  17. Okay, so the same kind of system as Romance used to have (and Catalan still does), where the accent originally marked both stress and quality: high vowels í, ú, low vowel à, mid vowels é, ó if mid-high, è, ò if mid-low. French has only the remnant of this with é and è (o is predictable most of the time); Spanish broke its mid-high vowels and so uses acute for stress alone; Italian uses only grave and inconsistently at that (though they do still make the distinction in mid vowels, at least in the standard language). Goedelic doesn’t need a stress mark very much, so the accent was repurposed for length.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Italian uses only grave

    With very few exceptions like perché.

  19. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I think it’s just bloodymindedness – not wanting to look like each other. But that could be unfair

    I’ve often wondered if that explains why Catalan uses ny rather than ñ: it’s not as if they haven’t got ñ on their keyboards. Not wanting to look like Hungarian probably wasn’t a consideration.

  20. Not wanting to look like Castilian might well be a consideration. Or Occitan either.

  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I don’t know much about Catalan perceptions of Occitan, but if Provençal, the closest manifestation of Occitan to me, is anything to go by its speakers want its written form to look as much like Catalan as possible. When Provençal was revived as a literary language by Frédérique Mistral he introduced a writing system that doesn’t look at all like Catalan (and not much like French, either). As I first met Provençal in its Mistralian form, that is of course what I’ve tended to regard as the right way to write it. However, I gather the Catalanized version has some history to support it, so, much as I dislike it it’s hardly wrong. Anyway, there are three aspects I like about Mistralian Provençal: (1) the noun is invariant, with no distinction between singular and plural (true of spoken French as well, of course, for most nouns most of the time, but Provençal recognizes reality in writing as well); (2) the mark of the feminine is -o, in contrast to Italian etc.; Provençal is far more fond of the letter ç than French is, and more fond than Catalan and Portuguese are, so we have reasonably common words like coumençanço (“beginning”) — I don’t know of any French word with more than one ç.

    The first time I drove on minor Catalan roads there were signs in the woods every few hundred meters that said Caça prohibida. At that time I didn’t know what caça meant, and I tended to read it as Caca prohibida — a reasonable enough prohibition, but not what it meant.

  22. I don’t know much about Catalan perceptions of Occitan, but if Provençal, the closest manifestation of Occitan to me, is anything to go by its speakers want its written form to look as much like Catalan as possible.

    As with many minority languages (not Catalan, of course), the sets of speakers and of people who consider it important that the language appear on public signage are pretty much disjoint.

    Here’s how the orthographies work: Mistral’s orthography doesn’t make the language look anything like French, but if you pronounce it as if it were French (and after all, all occitan(e)s are perfectly literate in French) what will come out of your mouth will be Provence/Nice Occitan. This is fine if that’s the dialect you know, not so fine if it isn’t. Bonnaud’s orthography works the same way, except what you get is Auvergne Occitan. Both of these are dead easy for the speakers of those varieties, but basically useless elsewhere. (There’s another one for Po Valley speakers which I think you have to pronounce as Italian, and possibly others.)

    For example, here’s Article 1 of the UDHR (“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”) in Mistral’s orthography: “Tóuti li persouno naisson liéuro e egalo en dignita e en dre. Soun doutado de rasoun e de counsciènci e li fau agi entre éli em’ un esperit de freiresso.” And here it is in Bonnaud’s: “Ta la proussouna neisson lieura moé parira pà dïnessà mai dret. Son charjada de razou moé de cousiensà mai lhu fau arjî entremeî lha bei n’eime de freiressà.” So if I come from Provence I can read the Auvergne version out loud fine, but understanding it is a whole different thing. And of course this is not at all colloquial: reading novelistic dialogue would be much more difficult.

    The classical orthography, on the other hand, is equally bad phonetically for everyone, but it in some sense works for everyone, because it descends from a period before the dialects were so greatly diversified. In that way it’s much like English orthography. But if you write in it, you can communicate right across dialects. Using the classical orthography, in Provence they would write: “Totei lei personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e li cau agir entre elei amb un esperit de frairesa”, and in Auvergne it would be “Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en dreit. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chau agir entre elas amb un esperit de frairesa.” That’s not word-for-word the same, because the dialects do differ in things other than pronunciation. But it’s (I am told) easily intelligible.

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