The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics Colloquium 10/15 - Vera Gribanova (PLEASE NOTE LOCATION)

Date: Friday, October 15, 2010
Time: 3:30-5:00PM
Place: 32-155 (PLEASE NOTE NEW ROOM)
Speaker: Vera Gribanova (Stanford University)
Title: On diagnosing ellipsis and argument drop: the view from Russian

Investigations of constructions that are the result of putative ellipsis commonly face a trying analytical obstacle: the pronounced surface string can be the result of more than one logically possible derivation. These alternative derivations might involve a different underlying structure, and may not involve genuine ellipsis at all (see, for example, Kizu 1997 and Merchant 1998 on sluicing vs. pseudosluicing). The question of whether ellipsis is genuinely at work has famously been a problem in the analysis of structures that strand a finite verb, leaving its internal arguments and adjuncts unpronounced. One analytical possibility involves Verb-Stranding Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VVPE), in which the inflected verb escapes an ellipsis site and is pronounced, while its internal arguments and adjuncts remain in the VP and are elided. The alternative – and arguably simpler – analysis of VVPE-like structures involves argument drop of the internal arguments of the verb.

Two properties of the controversy about VVPE-like structures in argument drop languages are i) that the evidence distinguishing the two alternatives is delicate and subtle (Otani and Whitman, 1991; Hoji, 1998; Kim, 1999; Doron, 1991; Goldberg, 2005a) , and ii) that the resulting picture sometimes involves the claim that both strategies are available for the derivation of one surface string in one language (Goldberg, 2005a,b). In this talk I examine similar constructions in Russian (1), of which both these observations hold.

  1. Eto daže esli ja vody v rot naberu?
    that even if I water.GEN in mouth collect.1SG.FUT
    ‘Is that even if I fill my mouth with water?’

    Daže esli i naberete. Da ved’ ne naberete, ne naberete že!
    even if and collect.2SG yes but NEG collect.2SG NEG collect.2SG EMPH
    ‘Even if you fill (it with water). But you won’t fill (it with water), you won’t fill (it with water)!’ (Ju. O. Dombrovskij. Fakul’tet nenužnyx veščej, čast’ 2, 1978)

I argue that argument drop and VVPE are both available as strategies for deriving (1), and draw on evidence from a judgment questionnaire to demonstrate that object drop is not acceptable inside islands in Russian (whereas VVPE is). Distinguishing the two possibilities in this manner has the beneficial consequence of shedding light on a constellation of heretofore unanalyzed and unknown facts about Russian argument drop, such as:

  • that Russian subject and object drop have asymmetric syntactic licensing conditions;
  • that the possibility of A-bar extraction parallels the possibility of object drop across a series of syntactic constructions in Russian.

The investigation concludes with a discussion of evidence from verb (mis-)matching in Russian VVPE-like constructions, arguing that this evidence is not a reliable diagnostic for genuine ellipsis in such cases.

Doron, Edit. 1991. V-movement and VP ellipsis. Unpublished ms.
Goldberg, Lotus. 2005a. Verb-Stranding VP Ellipsis: A Cross-Linguistic Study. PhD thesis, McGill University.
Goldberg, Lotus. 2005b. On the verbal identity requirement in VP ellipsis. Unpublished ms., Presented at the Identity in Ellipsis workshop at UC Berkeley.
Hoji, Hajime. 1998. Null objects and sloppy identity in Japanese. Linguistic Inquiry 28:127—152.
Kim, Soowon. 1999. Sloppy/strict identity, empty objects, and NP ellipsis. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 8:255—284.
Kizu, Mika. 1997. Sluicing in Wh-in-situ languages. In K. Singer, R. Eggert, and G. Anderson (Eds.), Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistic Society 33, 231—244.
Merchant, Jason. 1998. ‘Pseudosluicing’: Elliptical clefts in Japanese and English. In A. Alexiadou, N. Fuhrhop, P. Law, and U. Kleinhenz (Eds.), ZAS Working Papers in Linguistics 10, 88—112. Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft.
Otani, Kazuyo, and John Whitman. 1991. V-raising and VP-ellipsis. Linguistic Inquiry 22:345—358.