The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/14 - Michelle Yuan (MIT)

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Last Resort licensing in Inuktitut
Date and time: Tuesday November 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The traditional Case Filter (Chomsky 1981, et seq.) regulates the syntactic distribution of nominal arguments; nominals cannot appear in positions where they are inaccessible for licensing (e.g. Case assignment). It has also been argued that nominals in such positions may nonetheless be later licensed by a Last Resort mechanism that rescues the derivation. In much of this literature, Last Resort Case assignment is modeled as the countercyclic insertion of a Case-bearing head directly onto the nominal in question (e.g. Harley & Noyer 1998, Rezac 2011, Levin 2015, van Urk 2015).

I argue for the existence of this kind of Last Resort Case assignment in Inuktitut (Eskimo-Aleut), thus providing evidence in favour of this idea more generally. Along the way, I also show how this analysis sheds light on various other aspects of Inuktitut morphosyntax. In Inuktitut, regular nominal licensing strategies may be blocked or disrupted in certain environments. When this happens, these nominals uniformly receive a certain kind of oblique case. Crucially, this oblique case morphology must be countercyclically inserted once the clause structure has been fully built. In Inuktitut, this derivational logic is particularly transparent: phi-agreement, the language’s regular nominal licensing strategy, is in C0, meaning that failure to license a lower nominal via phi-agreement can only be seen once the CP layer is Merged. Finally, I argue that, despite surface similarities, this Last Resort Case-insertion process is distinct from default case (e.g. Schutze 2001).