The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, July 19th, 2021

Banerjee defends!!

Last Monday, Neil Banerjee defended his PhD dissertation, “On the interaction of portmanteaux and ellipsis”. The thesis tackles a surprising contrast between languages like Hungarian, in which portmanteau elements occur even when part of the structure that they express has undergone ellipsis (“indivisible portmanteau”), and languages like Bengali, in which portmanteau elements occur only when the entire structure is overtly pronounced (“divisible portmanteau”). The thesis argues that these reflect two different representations of portmanteau, and shows how recently proposed models of ellipsis predict (in)divisibility, when they operate over these representations. This analysis has important implications not only for the morphological analysis of portmanteau, but also syntactic analyses of ellipsis and other silencing operations.
Congratulations, Neil!!
What happens when you try to elide one half of a portmanteau? My thesis discusses two patterns: one involves the portmanteau splitting apart and the other involves the portmanteau being pronounced in full despite being half-inside an ellipsis site. In the thesis I argue that these patterns can be accounted for with a single ellipsis mechanism, but two different portmanteau forming mechanisms. In this talk, I will focus on the pattern of elliptical indivisibility in Hungarian and discuss what it teaches us about the nature and timing of ellipsis silencing. Hungarian has a portmanteau negative copula in some contexts. While ellipsis of the complement of negation is generally unremarkable, if the intended ellipsis site contains a copula that can form a portmanteau with negation, the copula gets to escape and be pronounced with negation in its portmanteau form, while the rest of the complement of negation does get elided. No smaller ellipsis site is possible for many speakers, meaning the copular half of the portmanteau is being pronounced despite being inside an ellipsis site. The existence of indivisible portmanteaux means that the contents of the ellipsis site must be accessible to whatever forms portmanteaux, and that portmanteau formation can bleed ellipsis silencing. I will argue that the negative copula portmanteau forms post-syntactically, meaning that the contents of ellipsis sites have to be at least somewhat post-syntactically accessible, and discuss which theories of ellipsis silencing can and cannot capture the existence of elliptical indivisibility.