The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MorPhun 2/22 - Christopher Legerme (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Legerme (MIT)
Title: Verbal (Non-)Apocope in Haitian Creole
Time: Thursday, February 22nd, 5pm – 6pm
Location: 32-D769

Abstract: Verbal apocope is widely attested across French-lexified creole (FLC) languages and it involves the alternation between a short and long form of the verb in certain syntactic contexts (Seuren 1990, Henri and Abeillé 2008).

(1)  Mo fin mâze (*mâz)
      1.SG finish eat
       “I have eaten.”

(2) Mo fin mâz diri la (*mâze)
      1.SG finish eat rice DET
     “I have eaten the rice.” (Mauritian Creole, Seuren 1990)

(3) Konbyen dan Tonton Bouki genyen (*gen)
      how-many tooth Uncle Bouki has
      “How many teeth does Uncle Bouki have?”

(4) Tonton Bouki gen 32 dan l (*genyen)
       Uncle Bouki has 32 tooth 3.SG
      “Uncle Bouki has (all of) his 32 teeth.” (Haitian Creole, DeGraff 2001)

In (1) and (3), the long form of the verb is obligatory, and in (2) and (4) the short form is obligatory. The morphosyntactic or morphophonological conditions influencing verb shortening (or lengthening) are still a mystery and vary across FLCs, with linguists citing factors such as the (non-)presence of a VP complement or semantic agent, as well as other syntactic, prosodic, or semantic considerations depending on the language. Haitian Creole (HC) stands out as the most systematic in the realization of its verbs and most verbal roots of HC in fact must surface with the verbalizing affix –e, such as in manje “to eat” (√Manj-+e) and genyen “to win” (√Gen+-e, with added phonological processes deriving from gen /gɛ̃/ the final surface form genyen /gɛ̃jɛ̃/). This verbalizing affix may also be –i for a certain class of roots, for example, fini “to finish” (√Fin+-i) or mouri “to die” (√Mour+-i). HC is also the least constrained in the domain of verbal apocope because, aside from (4) (which I will account for), there isn’t much evidence that HC short forms are ever obligatory to the exclusion of the long form, unlike in the apocope patterns of other FLCs where both the exclusively short and the exclusively long contexts are widespread. However, HC verbs that permit apocope (e.g., gad(e) “look”, gen(yen) “have”, fin(i) “finish”, vin(i) “come”) do show evidence that the long form is required in some contexts. For example, one generalization (attested in other FLCs, too) is that the short form cannot occur when the complement of the verb is absent. For this talk, I will demonstrate that the pattern of HC short/long alternation is actually that of a verbal non-apocope, where the shortening of the verb by deletion of the verbal suffix –e is barred by PF constraints rather than there being a licensing of the short form by a combination of various semantic or syntactic considerations. Crucially, this phenomenon of verbal non-apocope in HC is related to stress assignment at the interface of syntax and phonology and a constraint against apocope when the verbalizing affix –has primary stress. Finally, I will extend my analysis to a famous puzzle of HC linguistics concerning the pattern of the ∅/ye “be” copula alternation.