The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/7 - Andrew Peters (University of Toronto)

Speaker: Andrew Peters (University of Toronto)
Title: Keeping Finiteness Syntactic: Propositions, bare events and the lack of a finite distinction in Mandarin Chinese
Date and time: Tuesday November 7, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Lacking morphological diagnostics, arguments for or against the presence of a finiteness contrast in Mandarin Chinese (MC) have focused primarily around the distribution of modal verbs and aspectual markers, and the analysis of control and raising. Lin (2011, 2015), for example, posits (1) that MC raising verbs take finite TP complements, control taking non-finite TP complements, (2) that epistemic modals are raising verbs and root modals are control verbs, and (3) that root and epistemic modals’ differing distribution with respect to aspect requires a finiteness distinction. This talk departs from Lin’s argument by positing that the fundamental clause-type distinction in Mandarin is between propositions and bare events. This distinction relies on a PROP(osition) feature (Cowper, 2005; 2016) which I argue is hosted on AspP in Mandarin, and is responsible for taking bare events and returning propositions. Epistemic modals require propositions in their prejacent (Kratzer, 1991; Butler 2003 inter alia), while root modals may take bare events in Mandarin (Grano, 2015). Thus, finiteness may remain a purely syntactic distinction involving the licensing of structural case (Cowper, 2016), and need not be defined semantically. Lacking further evidence for its existence, I posit that there is no finiteness distinction in Mandarin.