The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 4/9 - Coppe van Urk and Hadas Kotek

Syntax Square will meet on Monday this week due to the meeting with the Visiting Committee. The presenters will be giving WCCFL practice talks.

Date/Time: Monday, Apr 9, 12-1p (Note special date/time)
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Coppe van Urk
Title: Aspect-based agreement reversal in Neo-Aramaic

In this talk, we discuss an unusual aspect split in dialects of Neo-Aramaic, in which the function of subject and object agreement markers switches completely between aspects. We propose that agreement reversal is driven by the fact that imperfective aspect introduces an additional phi-probe. This account provides support for the hypothesis, developed in recent work on split ergativity (Laka 2006; Coon 2010; Coon & Preminger 2011), that aspect splits arise because nonperfective aspects may be associated with additional prepositional structure (Demirdache & Uribe-Etxebarria 2000; Coon 2010), since this hypothesis allows for the apparently disparate patterns of agreement reversal and split ergativity to be given a unified treatment.

Speaker: Hadas Kotek
Title: WH-Fronting in a Two-Probe System

The study of wh-movement has distinguished among several types of wh-fronting languages that permit distinct patterns of overt and covert movement, instantiated for example by the Slavic languages, English and German. This talk extends the cross-linguistic typology of multiple questions by arguing that Hebrew instantiates a new kind of wh-fronting language, unlike any that are presently discussed in the literature. It will show that Hebrew distinguishes between two kinds of interrogative phrases: those that are headed by a wh-word (wh-headed phrases: what, who, [DP which X], where, how …) and those that contain a wh-word but are headed by some other element (wh-containing phrases: [NP N of wh], [PP P wh]). We observe the special status of wh-headed phrases when one occurs structurally lower in a question than a wh-containing phrase. In that case, the wh-headed phrase can be targeted by an Agree/Attract operation that ignores the presence of the c-commanding wh-containing phrase.

The talk develops an account of the sensitivity of interrogative probing operations to the head of the interrogative phrase within Q-particle theory. It proposes that the Hebrew Q has an EPP feature which can trigger head-movement of wh to Q and that a wh-probe exists alongside the more familiar Q-probe, and shows how these two modifications to the theory can account for the intricate data that emerge from the paper. The emerging picture is one in which interrogative probing does not occur wholesale but rather can be sensitive to particular interrogative features on potential goals.