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SOME NOTES ON NOUN INCORPORATION Jerrold M. SADOCK University ofChicago Despite recent claims to the contrary, noun incorporation has an undeniable syntactic reality in some languages. In Greenlandic Eskimo and Southern Tiwa, the incorporated nominal displays many syntactic, semantic, and discourse-functional features of independent nomináis—features which much recent work would lead us to doubt could characterize proper subparts ofwords. Linguistic theory must therefore allow for some limited interpénétration of the two modules of syntax and morphology.* 1. Flightless birds and linguistic theory. We should not be at all surprised to find that, in a particular language, some word-building process displays all the characteristics that we have come to expect oflexical relationships: incomplete productivity, phonological and semantic unpredictability, syntactic identity with underived forms, and discourse opacity to the word-internal morphemes . We should not even be surprised if these traits show up in noun incorporation (hereafter NI), a word-building process which would seem to be amenable to a syntactic treatment, if any is—for by now the null hypothesis surely must be that any individual word-building process does not interact with the syntax. Mithun 1984 (hereafter M) argues that this null hypothesis holds for NI in several diverse languages. Though she hedges considerably on all crucial points, she apparently wishes us to believe that NI is always devoid of syntactic interest—as when she says, in her abstract: 'where syntax and morphology diverge, incorporation is a solidly morphological device that derives lexical items, not sentences.' The thesis which M apparently seeks to defend is much like the claim that there are no flightless birds in New Zealand. It is far more interesting and important than the weaker claim that most birds fly; but we cannot establish it by citing instance after instance of positive examples, since the existence of the kiwi renders the thesis simply false. The preponderance of evidence is such that, when confronted with a kiwi, we might be tempted to argue either that some of its longer leaps are to count as flying, or else that it is not a bird at all (for if it were, it would fly). But to surrender to the first temptation so weakens the real content of our thesis as to make it of little interest, and to surrender to the second temptation reduces the argument to circularity. Surely the most serious threat to the importance ofany such universal pronouncement is the temptation to close our eyes whenever an apparent counter-example * I wish to thank the Spencer Foundation and the University of Chicago for financial support that enabled me to spend a year at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. Much of my knowledge of West Greenlandic comes from research supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Phillips Fund of the American Philosophical Society, and the Division of the Humanities, University of Chicago; to all of these, I am also very grateful. I would also like to thank Tony Woodbury for his generous help in the preparation of this paper, and absolve him of blame for misconceptions and misstatements it might contain. Sandra Chung and Geoffrey Pullum provided helpful comments. 19 20LANGUAGE, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 1 (1986) shows up—to delude ourselves into thinking that we did not see the kiwi that just trotted by. A few years ago, I provided a description ofjust such a linguistic rara avis in the pages of this journal (Sadock 1980). The species had been discovered and described before (Rischel 1971 , 1972); but its importance to linguistic theory was such that I felt that a more detailed account of its habits and habitat should be given in a more prominent place, in order to bring it to the attention of the linguistic community at large. Apparently I failed to achieve this goal, for the relevance of the facts of Greenlandic NI for M's thesis seems to have escaped her attention. Now it might be that M assumed, along with Sapir 1911, that the Eskimo morphological process called 'noun incorporation' is a completely different sort ofphenomenon (the equivalent ofthe proposal not to count the kiwi as a bird).1 Indeed, the morphological...


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