The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/25 - Roberta D’Alessandro

Speaker: Roberta D’Alessandro (Leiden University)
Title: Merging Probes and the locus of syntactic variation. A case study.
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct 25, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32D-461

The so-called Borer-Chomsky conjecture as formulated by Mark Baker (2008) states that all parameters of syntacticvariation are attributable to differences in features of particular items (e.g. the functional heads) in the lexicon. In this talk it will be shown that this statement is substantiated in a group of languages that show heavy microvariation: Italian dialects. It is traditionally believed that Northern and Southern dialects belong to different groups, the main differences between them being the presence vs absence of subject clitics, and the presence vs absence of person-driven auxiliary selection. The hypothesis will be explored that subject clitics and person-driven auxiliary selection are instead essentially the same phenomenon: subject doubling. Upper Southern dialects differ from Northern dialects just in the locus of an extra functional head, encoding person features. The almost perfect complementary distribution between dialects with subject clitics and languages with person-driven auxiliary selection is not accidental, but is the logical result the presence of an extra φ-probe doubling the features of the subject in different parts of the syntactic spine. Italian dialects are hence not so different from each other as they might seem.

Furthermore, the macrogroup of Italian dialects also differs minimally from some split-ergative languages because of the valued/unvalued nature of the features found on this extra head. Typological microvariation can be shown to follow from features on functional heads, just as expected.