The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 12/4 - Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Yadav Gowda
Title: Clausal downstepping and extraposition
Date and Time: Tuesday, December 4, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I’ll argue for a surprising condition on the prosody of embedded CPs, which I’ll call Clausal Downstepping:

(1) Clausal Downstepping: All phonological material within a CP must be immediately downstepped with respect to the phonological material of the head which immediately projects over it.

Downstep is a cross-linguistically attested phenomenon in which high tones within a prosodic domain are lowered with respect to preceding high tones, triggered at specific points within an utterance. It has been well-established that in many languages, downstep has a strong connection to syntactic and prosodic structure. I’ll give a brief primer on the relevant prosodic background and show the varying ways that (1) is satisfied cross-linguistically.

Next, I’ll argue that (1), along with the inherently left-to-right nature of downstep, provides an explanation for the commonly attested phenomenon of clausal extraposition. Clausal extraposition, a phenomenon seen in many SOV (German, Hindi, Turkish, Persian) and VOS (Malagasy, Toba Batak) languages, involves clausal objects obligatorily appearing in a peripheral position (2) despite normal objects appearing in a non-peripheral position (3) .

(2) a. Frank hat mir erzählt [dass die Eintracht Meister wird]
          Frank has me told [that the Eintracht champion becomes]
          ‘Frank told me that Eintracht will become champions.’
      b. * Frank hat mir [dass die Eintracht Meister wird] erzählt
(3) a. Frank hat mir [die Wahrheit] erzählt.
          Frank has me [the truth] told
          ‘Frank told me the truth.’
      b. * Frank hat mir erzählt [die Wahrheit].

Furthermore, I’ll argue that (1) provides better empirical coverage of the surface distribution of CPs in these languages than previous prosodic, syntactic, and semantic accounts.