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Tristan wrote:
> Now I think about it, I'm not so sure English is wildly different---I
> think most alien abducting Australians, at least, with linguists aboard
> the ship would probably come to the conclusion that English is
> currently undergoing a period of change to its internal structures, and
> thus would try to find out where it's been to see where it's going.

English dialects certainly are undergoing many changes, but none of
them really resemble the polypersonalism of colloquial French nowadays.
The closest is the tendency towards increasing morphological complexity
on auxilliary verbs, to inflect for negation and aspect as well as tense
(e.g., "I hadna gone when he thought I did" [cf. *"I had not have
gone..."]).

> On which subject, can anyone direct me to, or give me, the normal
> analysis of English verbs and so forth, considering the contractions?
> Without ignoring them by saying they're just spoken contractions of the
> full form; I find many contracted forms grammatical when the full form
> isn't, so they can't be equivalent.

That's normal with clitics, and something fully expected if one
analyzes them as having separate lexical entries, which most do.
E.g., some dialects allow "If I had'a gone", but none AFAIK *"If
I had have gone".

> One curious thing about English though is that it's often painted as a
> relatively isolating language, but as I understand it (and I might be
> *wildly* wrong here, which is the simplest explanation) German tends
> not to use its genitive, preferring expressions including 'von', and
> doesn't like its simple past tense, preferring expressions paralleling
> English past perfects, whereas English enjoys the use of both...

True, but nonetheless, German is in most respects considerably more
morphologically complex than English.

> BTW---if a language forms everything with clitics (like English seems
> to want to), does it necessarily count as isolating or agglutinative or
> something,

This depends on the criteria one uses to descriptively define clitics,
and also on what one's theory of cliticization is.  (See my post of
some time back about the most commonly accepted criteria for clitics.)
If you say that clitics are syntactic words, but morphological affixes
(as some lexicalist theories do), then language X can be simultaneously
more and less isolating.  This shows why even typologists take relatively
little interest in classifying languages into one of those three
categories, since it often doesn't get one anywhere.

> I'm not so sure the English infinitive is splittable in the first
> place,

Well, there are at least two senses in which one can speak of "infinitives"
in English.  One is the infintive _construction_, involving multiple
words, which can of course be split.  The second is a less traditional
one, analyzing -ing-marked complements as infinitives, as in "I hate
taking out the trash". This second infinitive cannot ever be split.
Learning which verbs take which kind of infinitive is a real problem
for L2 speakers of English, since in my experience they tend greatly
to overestimate the usage of "to" infinitives at the expense of "-ing"
infinitives.  (Some verbs can of course take either kind, but some
only take the first, and some only the second.) In my dialect, the
second synthetic infinitive is slowly replacing the analytic infinitive.

(One can of course still say these second are gerunds, but they don't
feel that way to me.)

 =========================================================================
Thomas Wier	       "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally,
Dept. of Linguistics    because our secret police don't get it right
University of Chicago   half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of
1010 E. 59th Street     Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter.
Chicago, IL 60637