The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 4/30 - Mitya Privoznov and Justin Colley (MIT)

Speaker: Dmitry Privoznov and Justin Colley (MIT)
Title: On the topic of subjects
Time: Thursday, April 30th, 12:30pm – 2pm

Abstract: In this talk we will focus on two seemingly unrelated phenomena. These are (a) passive construction in Khanty (Uralic, Finno-Ugric), similar to Voice Marking in Austronesian languages, e.g. Atayal; and (b) local A-scrambling in Balkar (Altaic, Turkic), i.e. SOV vs. OSV word order alteration, similar to local A-scrambling in Russian or Yiddish. We will argue that both phenomena involve the same kind of movement with mixed A- and A’-properties, which has the same effect on the information structure (promotes Topics) and targets the same syntactic position – Spec,TP. We will propose an analysis that relies on Composite Probes and accounts for the properties of individual languages, as well as the cross-linguistic variation. In a nutshell, the Probe for Topics, which is situated above the subject position in languages like English (i.e. the C head), is attached lower on the clausal spine in languages like Khanty or Balkar. Namely, in Khanty and Balkar the Probe for Topics forms a Composite Probe with T (responsible for the subject position). The difference between Khanty and Balkar comes from the two sub-Probes of T probing together vs. separately.