The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/28 - Justin Colley and Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Justin Colley and Mitya Privoznov
Title: Voice marking in Khanty
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 27, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
In this talk we will discuss an “Austronesian” phenomenon of voice marking in a Uralic language Khanty (Northern dialect). In particular, we will look at the Khanty morpheme -a/-i, usually called ‘passive’ in descriptive grammars. There are several features that make the Khanty ‘passive’ not passive-like. Firstly, arguments other than the Theme can promote to the subject position. Secondly, all the noun phrases that do not promote to the subject position surface with a special case (called locative). Thirdly, the ‘passive’ morpheme has an effect on the information structure of the sentence. Finally, the ‘passive’ morpheme follows the tense morphemes, which is atypical for argument structure changing passives that are usually put at the vP/VoiceP level.

There are several questions to explain. First, what is the semantic contribution and the syntactic position of the ‘passive’ morpheme? Second, what is the source of the locative case? Third, what type of movement is the promotion to subject in ‘passive’?

We will discuss some ideas of how we can deal with these data. All of them involve one basic assumption: the ‘passive’ morpheme is a composite probe ala Coon and Bale (2014) or van Urk (2015). It is T with a Topic feature on it. The problem is the locative case. Is it assigned by the composite T? Is it assigned independently? There will be several open questions and cryings out for help.