How is the word "elephant" in the following Japanese sentence represented in the corresponding X-bar tree?

Elephant  trunk  long
TOP       NOM    NPST

Is the tree flat or are "elephant" and "trunk" understood as one NP?

  • Atamiri, you can use that tool to write glosses. I guess that "TOP" means Topic there, this way you can write the extended versions. :D
    – Alenanno
    Sep 16 '13 at 16:08
  • What do you mean by "is the tree flat"? How can a tree be flat?
    – P Elliott
    Sep 16 '13 at 18:15
  • 1
    The tree of the above mentioned sentence is flat if its depth is 1. Trees in nonconfigurational languages are called flat.
    – Atamiri
    Sep 16 '13 at 18:20

UPDATE: This update aims at clarifying many points which were raised in comments. Many thanks to dainichi for correcting the Japanese (all remaining embarrassing errors of course remain solely my own).

I'm going to make two assumptions. The first is that the Japanese sentence you have in mind is (1), the most literal translation I can imagine.

(1) 象は 鼻が 長い。

Zoo-ha hana-ga nagai Elephant TOP trunk NOM long

The second is that you are looking for an answer within X-bar theory as it is currently understood and practiced. Then

[.TopP [.TopP [.N Zoo ] ha ] [.TP Hana [.T -i [.Adj Naga ]] ] ]

with post-syntactic addition of the NOM marker ga and morphological head movement of the bare adjective to the tense marker seems a plausible enough representation, though of course much investigations would be needed in order to determine if it is anywhere near correct. This representation (hopefully) obeys some of the standard constraints nowadays commonly believed (by people doing that kind of stuff) to hold for arborescent representations, namely: it is a binary tree and it satisfies Kayne's Linear Correspondence Axiom. In particular, it is very much not flat.

I am afraid I'm unable to understand P Elliott remarks in comments. Is the problem that I used bare phrase structures notations rather than pure X-bar notations? I will say this though, I took Atamiri's question to be whether X-bar theory treated topic sentences as flat trees, so I proposed a not too absurd tree showing that this was not the case. This tree embodies a number of assumptions, most conspicuously that topic elements are base-generated above TP (but many other, starting with the status of the nominative marker or the status of adjective in Japanese predication relations). I made a minimal effort to make non-absurd choices but my intention was not to accurately describe predication in Japanese.

Finally, non-contrastive topics in Japanese are indeed usually thought to be base generated in the left periphery. Contrastive topics probably move. See for instance :

On the position of topics in Japanese (Reiko Vermeulen)

Topic prominency in Japanese (Kishimoto Hideki)

UPDATE2: P Elliott correctly remarks in comments that a PRO should probably appear somewhere in the TP. I must confess that I have no clear idea where it should be, and so omitted it.

  • Can you please give a gloss for the Japanese sentence?
    – P Elliott
    Sep 18 '13 at 19:49
  • Also, your bracketed representation doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. You've labelled the sentence as a whole as a TopP, and made the TP an adjunct to TopP. There aren't any intermediate-level labels either, so it isn't clear what's a specifier and what's a complement.
    – P Elliott
    Sep 18 '13 at 19:51
  • Ok, so Japanese/Korean topic-marked NPs are considered external. I usually assume the Lexical Integrity Hypothesis but it is not relevant to the present discussion. The relationship between "elephant" and "trunk" is not reflected in the tree. Thanks
    – Atamiri
    Sep 18 '13 at 20:45
  • @Atamiri can you elaborate a little? In what sense is the topic-marked NP 'external'? Do you mean that it's base-generated in the topic projection, rather than having moved there? I'm also not seeing how lexical integrity is relevant here.
    – P Elliott
    Sep 18 '13 at 23:16
  • An elephant's trunk is called 鼻 (hana). トランク(toranku) means the trunk of a car or a suitcase, but not the trunk of an elephant.
    – dainichi
    Sep 19 '13 at 5:41

To the best of my knowledge, there's a node for topics that's a child of C' (and a sister of either TP or another C', IIRC). It's the same place that fronted nouns in V2 languages like German and Norwegian go.

I believe some theorists have posited a whole topic-focus structure up there (for languages like Latin), but I unfortunately don't remember how it works exactly.

  • 1
    The notion that there are distinct topic & focus projections (amongst others) in the left periphery is known as the Split CP Hypothesis, and has its origins in the work of Luigi Rizzi (see esp. 1997: actl.ucl.ac.uk/actl1011/…). In Rizzi's system, the left-periphery is split into several different functional projections, including TopP and and FocP. A topicalised phrase, for example, moves to the specifier of the functional topic head, which heads topP.
    – P Elliott
    Sep 16 '13 at 23:51

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