The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 11/17 - Itamar Kastner (NYU)

Speaker: Itamar Kastner (NYU)
Title: Towards a compositional semantics for reflexives in Hebrew
Time: Tuesday, 11/17, 1-2:30pm
Location: 32-D769

The verbal system of Modern Hebrew consists of seven distinct verbal “templates”: specific morphophonological patterns of affixes and vowels which, on combining with a lexical “root” made up of consonants, result in verbal forms. This kind of non-concatenative morphology obscures the hierarchical arrangement of whichever syntactic, semantic and phonological primitives are involved; the affixes are all fused and superimposed one atop another, in a manner of speaking.

This talk focuses on the hitXaYeZ template (where X-Y-Z are the root consonants), the only one of the seven templates in which reflexive verbs can appear. The question is what is special about the morphosemantic structure of this template and how this structure interacts with the root.

On the one hand, the lexical semantic content of the root constrains the argument structure of the resulting verb (not all verbs in this template are reflexive). On the other hand, there must be something special about the hitXaYeZ template itself since it is the only one of the seven that derives reflexives; this behavior will be cashed out in terms of Voice-related heads in the syntax. I will discuss what this tension can tell us about the grammar of reflexivity, agentivity and unaccusativity crosslinguistically, reviewing a recent approach to the morphosemantics of reflexives in Greek (Spathas et al 2015).