Reflections on the history of dependency notions in linguistics
This paper outlines the history of dependency notions from Antiquity to the present century. Although the notion of syntactic dependency was unknown in Antiquity, the idea of semantic dependency was foreshadowed in early definitions of the minor parts of speech, i.e., parts of speech other than the noun and the verb. In part, this happened because logicians had originally posited only the two major parts of speech, and grammarians then formulated their definitions of the minor parts of speech in relation to those of the noun and the verb. The adverb, for instance, was defined as augmenting or diminishing the meaning of the verb. The first writer who used (if not coined) a special term to refer to the notion that some words specify or ‘determine’ the meanings of the subject noun and the verbal predicate was Boethius (ca. 500 A.D.), and in this way the notion of ‘determination’ was launched. As a result of the subsequent popularity of Boethius’s logical works, ‘determination’ was adopted and extensively utilized by Latin grammarians from the 12th century on. In the 13th century, it was complemented by the term ‘dependency’, which was the logical converse of ‘determination’. Grammarians claimed that a dependency relation exists between the members of all constructions. The vogue of ‘dependency’ declined even before the advent of Renaissance humanism, while ‘determination’ survived. In the early modern period, the terminological repertory expanded. Thus, in the 18th century, French grammarians coined the terms ‘modification’ (Buffier) and ‘complement’ (Du Marsais). The 20th century has been marked by a further increase of new terms. Inspired by Tesnière’s posthumous Elèments de syntaxe structurale (1959), some linguists have also proposed formalized dependency theories as alternatives to phrase-structure grammar.
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