The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MIT Linguistics Colloquium - Junko Shimoyama - May 9th

Friday, May 9, 3:30 PM

Junko Shimoyama
McGill University

“Cross-linguistic (Non-)Variation in Clausal Comparatives”

Cross-linguistic variation in comparative constructions has attracted much attention in recent years. There has been much discussion, for instance, on how the phrasal comparatives (John is taller than Bill) should be analyzed. While the phrasal complement of than is claimed to be derived from a full clause in English (Lechner 2001) and from a small clause in Slavic languages (Pancheva 2006), the phrasal complement of than in Hindi-Urdu and Japanese may very well be base generated as is (Bhatt and Takahashi 2007a,b).

This talk looks at another area of possible cross-linguistic variation in comparatives. In particular, it has recently been claimed that some languages lack clausal comparatives, and that what appears to be the clausal complement of than is in fact a DP that receives a free relative interpretation (Beck, Oda and Sugisaki 2004, Kennedy to appear). These studies propose parameters to which the lack of clausal comparatives is attributed: a parameter that allows or disallows abstraction over degrees in the syntax (Beck et al.); or a parameter that restricts some languages to have only individual comparison, but no degree comparison. These claims on typological variation are based on data from Japanese, and how they differ from English.

I will show that a closer look at Japanese data reveals that genuine clausal comparatives do exist in the language. The cross-linguistic claims on parametric variation are thus not well supported, and require evidence from other languages. More specifically, I will present data where the clausal complements of yori ‘than’ cannot be free relative DPs that denote individuals. Such data are expected if we assume that genuine clausal comparatives exist in Japanese, and that they involve degree abstraction and degree comparison that are familiar from analyses of their English counterparts.