The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Syntax Square 12/4 - Ermenegildo Bidese

Speaker: Ermenegildo Bidese
Title: A binary system of complementizers in Cimbrian relative clauses
Date/Time: Tuesday, Dec 4, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

The system of Cimbrian relative clauses manifests itself in a complex scenario: two different complementizers occur in this context: i) the ‘autochthonous’ (Germanic) bo, cognate of Southern German wo, and ii) the ‘allochthonous’ ke, borrowed from Italian (che), which is gradually spreading. In my talk I provide empirical evidence for a crucial specialization of both complementizers: the former shows up only in restrictive relative clauses, the latter in both restrictive and non-restrictive relatives, giving rise to a binary system. In my analysis I aim to explain the binary system of Cimbrian relative complementizers directly addressing the general discussion about relative clauses, showing once more the relevance of both linguistic contact and microvariation for the theory of grammar.

Ling-Lunch 12/6 - Yusuke Imanishi

Speaker: Yusuke Imanishi (MIT)
Date/Time: December 6 (Thu), 12:30-1:45p
Place: 32-D461
Title: Parameterizing (non-)split ergativity in Mayan


Recent studies (Coon 2010, Mateo Pedro 2009, 2011) have shown that a split ergative pattern in Mayan languages such as Chol and Q’anjob’al is bi-clausal by taking the form of nominalization. Under these analyses the split ergativity in these languages derives from a particular agreement paradigm in Mayan: genitive = ergative.

These studies leave open an interesting question why other Mayan languages like Kaqchikel do not exhibit split ergativity the way that Chol and Q’anjob’al do (Mateo Pedro and Imanishi 2012).

In this preliminary talk, I address this question and attempt to propose a parametric analysis of the variation in Mayan regarding (non-)split ergativity. The languages I look at include Kaqchikel/Tzutujil/Q’eqchi’ (non-split ergative languages) and Chol/Q’anjob’al (split-ergative languages).

I focus on the independent property of a non-verbal predicate (NVP) in the languages hinted at by Coon et al. (2011): whether an NVP in a given language has the ability to raise the subject. I then argue for the generalization
(i) If an NVP in a given language does not raise the subject, the language displays (Chol/Q’anjob’al-type) split ergativity.
(ii) If an NVP in a given language raises the subject, the language does not display (Chok/Q’anjob’al-type) split ergativity.

I further address some exceptions to the generalization.

ESSL end-of-semester meeting 12/6

The Experimental Syntax and Semantics Lab will hold its end-of-semester lab meeting, led by Martin Hackl, on Thursday 12/6 at 5:30 pm in 32-D831.

Kotek paper to appear in NLLT

A paper by fourth-year student Hadas Kotek called “Wh-Fronting in a Two-Probe System” (earlier version available here) has been accepted for publication by Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. Congratulations Hadas!

Linguistics Colloquium 12/7 - Edith Aldridge

Speaker: Edith Aldridge (University of Washington)
Date/Time: 7 December, 3:30-5 pm
Location: 32-141
Title: Two Types of Ergativity and Where they Might Come from


Aldridge (2004), Legate (2008), and Coon et al. (2011) have demonstrated for several language families that there are at least two types of ergative language, one in which absolutive case is licensed solely by T and one in which v (also) plays a role. In this presentation, I propose an account of this variation in Austronesian languages as well as suggest a diachronic explanation for this variation. Specifically, I show that most Formosan languages like Seediq are T-type languages, while Philippine languages like Tagalog tend to be v-type. I then show how this distinction can result from two innovations in the reanalysis of a clausal nominalization as a finite root clause. The T-type system results from the first innovation. A reduced clausal nominalization nP is reanalyzed as verbal. Genitive case (which is identical to ergative in the modern languages) is assigned to the external argument in nP. Since n has no structural case feature to license the internal argument, this DP moves to the edge of nP to check case with T. This movement derives the well-known absolutive restriction on A’-extraction, since the object will come to occupy the outer specifier of the nP or vP phase. The ergative system arises when nP is reanalyzed as vP. Philippine languages, which constitute a lower-order subgroup in the Austronesian family, have undergone a second innovation which fully transitivized this vP, resulting in the acquisition of a structural case feature on transitive v.