Impossible changes and impossible borrowings

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This chapter examines the predictions of Biberauer, Holmberg & Roberts’s (2007, 2008) Final-over-Final Constraint/FOFC for grammatical change and borrowing. As a putatively invariant syntactic principle, FOFC excludes the synchronic possibility of head-final phrases dominating categorially alike head-initial phrases. For diachrony, FOFC predicts certain word-order changes to be impossible, whether contact is involved or not: specifically, head-final to head-initial change is predicted to proceed top-down, whereas the reverse change should proceed bottom-up. Case studies from the history of English, Afrikaans and French seem to support the first of these predictions. Furthermore, we show on the basis of data from South Asian languages, that the presence of a phrase-initial head blocks the borrowing of a higher phrase-final head, thereby avoiding a FOFC-violation.


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