The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquia by Will Oxford (MIT) last week!

Will Oxford gave two colloquia last week! They were at Boston University (11/7) on The accidental inverse, and at Harvard (11/11) on How to be(come) a direct/inverse language (abstract below). 
Abstract for How to be(come) a direct/inverse language:
In a “direct/inverse” alignment system, the agreement morphology that indexes a particular nominal is determined by the nominal’s rank on the person hierarchy rather than by its grammatical function, and a special marker indicates whether the highest-ranking nominal is the agent (direct) or patient (inverse). Algonquian languages are often seen as the prototypical example of such a system, but from a diachronic perspective, the Algonquian direct/inverse pattern is not particularly old: internal and external evidence both point to a reconstructed ancestor in which the agreement morphology shows prototypical nominative/accusative alignment. So where did the direct/inverse pattern come from, and how does the underlying syntax of a direct/inverse language differ from that of a nominative/accusative language? In this talk I propose answers to both questions. Diachronically, I propose that the Algonquian direct/inverse system arose when a gap in an innovative paradigm of verb inflection was filled by the analogical extension of an agreement pattern that was previously dedicated to passive forms. Synchronically, I propose that the direct/inverse pattern reflects the interaction of an object-agreement probe on the Voice head and an “omnivorous” probe on the Infl head. This analysis, formalized using Deal’s (2015) interaction-and-satisfaction model of the Agree operation, provides an elegant account of twelve different distributions of inverse marking across the Algonquian family. These proposals allow the Algonquian system to be integrated more closely into standard typological categories and formal analyses rather than standing as a type of its own. Given the prototypical status accorded to Algonquian in typological and theoretical discussions of direct/inverse marking, the fact that the Algonquian system dissolves into simpler and less unusual parts suggests that a degree of skepticism may be in order for putative direct/inverse systems in other language families as well.)