The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 5/2 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Outward-Sensitive Phonologically Conditioned Allomorphy in Koryak
Date and time: Tuesday May 2, 1—2pm
Location: 32-D461

In realizational theories of morphology like Distributed Morphology, syntactic operations are taken to apply to structures that lack phonological information, which then needs to be inserted at some later point in the derivation. A question we can then ask is whether there are any principled restrictions on how this insertion proceeds. One influential answer comes from Bobaljik (2000), who argues that vocabulary insertion is cyclic and phase-based: vocabulary items are inserted bottom-up within phases, and bottom-up from phase to phase. This makes predictions about restrictions on allomorphy determined at vocabulary insertion because it entails that, when a morpheme is undergoing insertion, only phonological information is present about the nodes below it, and only morphosyntactic information is available about those above it. This view predicts, then, that outward-looking allomorphy can be only conditioned by morphosyntactic features, and inward looking allomorphy by only conditioned by phonological/morphological features. In line with this prediction, cases of outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy are very scarce, the only clear example that I know of coming from Deal and Wolf (2014). In this presentation of work in progress, I will provide partial support for cyclic spellout. In particular, I will present 3 cases of allomorphy from the Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Kamchatka) verb-word, and will argue that they are outward-looking and phonologically conditioned, contrary to one of the claims of cyclic spellout. Based on this, I will argue that the phase-internal part of cyclic spellout is either false as a universal or unfalsifiable: these patterns of allomorphy pattern cannot be captured by it, but a theory of phonology sufficiently powerful to account for them negates cyclic spellout’s predictive power. However, I will argue that the predictions of phase-by-phase cyclicity are, in fact, borne out: in none of these cases can morphemes trigger allomorphy across a phase boundary, even if they are linearly adjacent to each other.