The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 4/9 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Prefer the less specified form: Evidence from Lebanese Arabic
Time: Tuesday, 4/9, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

For languages with resumptive pronouns (RPs), an Economy principle has been proposed that prefers gap realization whenever possible (e.g. Shlonsky 1992, Pesetsky 1998, McDaniel and Cowart 1999, Sichel 2014, and Rasin 2016). In Hebrew, for instance, the A’-trace in a raising relative clause is realized as a gap, unless an island blocks the movement, in which case an RP is inserted in the trace position. Because an RP has more internal structure than a gap, this Economy principle can then be stated either as a preference for the leastspecified form or the preference for the less specified form.

In this preliminary and informal discussion I argue that the latter formulation of the Economy principle is correct. I present evidence from Lebanese Arabic, which has a richer resumption strategy than Hebrew and can use an independent morpheme (“strong” pronouns), a clitic (“weak” pronoun), or an epithet in resumption (Aoun et al. 2001). The strong pronoun and the epithet have more morphological complexity than the weak pronoun. When coindexed with a quantificational antecedent (a wh-phrase or a quantifier), the strong pronoun and the epithet have the same distribution on the one hand, while the weak pronoun and the gap pattern together and have a wider distribution on the other hand. Strikingly, a weak pronoun alternates with a wh-gap in non-island contexts, and the wh-antecedent can be reconstructed to the position of the weak pronoun (Aoun and Benmamoun 1998). Based on these facts I argue that the Economy principle is a comparative one rather than a superlative one, preferring the less specified form whenever possible. In the case of Lebanese Arabic, it prefers a gap and a weak pronoun rather than a strong pronoun and an epithet.