The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 4/13 - Will Oxford (MIT, University of Manitoba)

Speaker: Will Oxford (MIT, University of Manitoba)
Title: Contrastive, obligatory, and spurious voice
Time: Thursday, April 13th, 12:30pm – 2pm


Algonquian languages have a system of direct-inverse marking that is conditioned by a person hierarchy: 1/2 > 3 > 3′ > 3″ (where 3′ and 3″ represent obviative and “further obviative” third persons). Since a multi-level hierarchy such as this cannot be captured by a single feature, the apparent need to account for such hierarchies has led to some creative proposals about what syntax can do. I will argue that the Algonquian person hierarchy is in fact an illusion created by the use of marked voice morphology under three different conditions, which I refer to as “contrastive voice”, “obligatory voice”, and “spurious voice”. Each condition is responsible for one of the three rankings that make up the apparent hierarchy: the 3′ > 3″ ranking reflects contrastive voice, the 3 > 3′ ranking reflects obligatory voice, and the 1/2 > 3 ranking reflects spurious voice. I will show how this dissolution of the hierarchy improves our understanding of the data and explore its implications for formal models of voice and agreement.