The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Spadine defends!

Congratulations go to Carolyn Spadine, who defended her dissertation entitled “The structure of attitude reports: representing context in grammar” last week. The empirical core of her dissertation is a set of fascinating findings concerning Tigrinya, a Semitic language spoken in Eritrea. Tigrinya speakers can introduce a clause with an inflected element “ʔil-” that can translate the English verb ‘say’ (or ‘believe’) and take a subject of its own — but turns out not to be a verb at all, but a perspectival complementizer (a kind of subordinating conjunction) with a very different syntax and semantics. Clauses introduced by “ʔil-” also show the phenomenon called “indexical shift”, by which the meaning of pronouns such as “I” and “you” is not fixed as in English, but varies with context. Most excitingly, the syntax of indexical shift in Tigrinya can yield agreement mismatches, with a first or second person subject cooccuring with a third person verb — but only under very particular circumstances. Carrie’s dissertation shows how the details of these phenomena in Tigrinya support a novel theory of how pronouns come to be first or second person in the first place. Congratulations, Carrie!!