The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 2/6 - Kristine Yu (UMass)

Speaker: Kristine Yu (UMass)
Title: Tonal marking of absolutive case in Samoan
Date: Friday, January 6th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

This paper argues that the ergative-marking Austronesian language Samoan has a high boundary tone that occurs on the last mora of the word preceding an absolutive argument, and that the source of this tone is inflectional morphology and not lexical representations, pragmatics, syntax, semantics, or phonology. In short, the claim is that Samoan has an absolutive high boundary tone case morpheme. This claim is surprising for two reasons. First, Samoan is not a tone language. Second, regardless of the source of the absolutive tone, positing it: (1) introduces a boundary paradox since it groups an absolutive case head with the prosodic constituent preceding the absolutive argument, and (2) implies that the presence of an absolutive induces a new phonological constituent. Nevertheless, I show that inflectional morphology must be the source of the absolutive high tone based on a converging body of evidence from: (1) the distribution of the rarely discussed ia particle that optionally precedes absolutive arguments and (2) the phonetic and phonological analysis of intonational patterns in the spoken utterances of a systematically varied set of syntactic structures. I also address the puzzles that the presence of an absolutive tonal case morpheme in Samoan raises.