The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 12/7 - Stefan Keine (UMass)

Please join us for the final Syntax Square of the semester this Tuesday, 12/7. Stefan Keine from UMass Amherst will present his work.

Speaker: Stefan Keine (UMass Amherst)
Title: Deconstructing Switch Reference
Time: Tuesday, December 7, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

The term ‘switch reference’ refers to morphological marking on a verb indicating whether the subject of this verb is coreferent with the subject of another verb or not. Although switch reference has not received much attention in the theoretical literature, it poses a number of challenges to current theorizing in that it appears to require the use of referential indices, chains, non-local computation, etc. In this talk, I investigate how the switch reference facts can be reconciled with a strictly local, autonomous, and ‘blind’ syntax as envisaged within the Minimalist Program. My core proposal is that, despite appearance, the alleged switch reference markers do not in fact directly track reference relations. Rather, they constitute the context-sensitive spellout of a coordination head. In a nutshell, if two VPs are conjoined (with a single vP projection, and hence a single agent, above them), the coordination head is realized by some exponent A; vP coordination, on the other hand, leads to spelling out the coordination head as B. It follows that occurrence of A will coincide with a same subject interpretation. Marker B, by contrast, is compatible with an arbitrary reference relation between subjects. I will develop this hypothesis in more detail, and argue that it provides an account for a number of properties of switch reference systems that remain puzzling under an approach directly built around reference relations. Finally, I will identify places of cross-linguistic variation within the system.