The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 2/17 -Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Two tiers of case assignment in Yimas
Date/Time:Tuesday, November 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831 (note exceptional location!)

Under the Marantzian (1991) model of case assignment, dependent case is assigned configurationally and on the basis of competition. In this talk, I examine the case and agreement system of Yimas (Lower Sepik; Papua New Guinea; data from Foley 1991) and argue that, while Yimas supports the fundamentals of this system, it also necessitates an extension of it. In Yimas, ERG and DAT behave like dependent cases, realized only in the presence of a case competitor. However, dependent case is determined over a series of optionally-present verbal agreement clitics, not over the arguments they cross-reference (i.e. clitics are case competitors for other clitics). The realization of dependent case thus hinges on the number of clitics hosted by the verb, not the number of arguments present in the syntax. The puzzle that this talk addresses is how dependent case comes to be realized over the clitics.

I argue that this can be resolved under a two-tiered system of case assignment. First, I show that there is reason to posit that the overt nominals are being assigned abstract case (NOM for subjects and ACC for objects) in the syntax, though this is obfuscated by the zero spell-out of both NOM and ACC (see Legate 2008 on ABS=DEF languages). The doubled clitics encode both the phi-features and abstract case features of their associated arguments. In the morphological component, dependent case realization is calculated over the series of verbal clitics; subject clitics are ERG in the presence of a case competitor and NOM (=ABS) otherwise, while object clitics are DAT in the presence of a case competitor and ACC (=ABS) otherwise.