The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 4/26 - Mark Baker

Speaker: Mark C. Baker (Rutgers)
Date/Time: Friday 26 April, 3:30-5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: On Dependent Ergative Case (in Shipibo) and Its Derivation by Phase


Focusing on new data from the Shipibo language (Panoan, spoken in Peru), I defend a simple “dependent case” theory of ergative case marking, where ergative case is assigned to the higher of two NPs in a clausal domain. I show how apparent failures of this rule can be explained assuming that VP is a spell out domain distinct from the clause, and this bleeds ergative case assignment for c-command relationships that already exist in VP and are unchanged in CP. This accounts for otherwise anomalous case patterns in ditransitives, reciprocals, and dyadic experiencer verbs. In contrast, applicatives of unaccusative verbs do have ergative subjects, and this is a notable success for the dependent case theory as opposed to popular theories according to which ergative is an inherent case. Finally, I show how case assignment interacts with restructuring to explain constructions in which ergative case appears to be optional. An additional theoretical implication of this work, I claim, is that it shows us more precisely where dependent case marking applies: not in the syntax proper, nor at PF proper, but precisely at Spell-Out, seen as the dynamic interface between syntax and PF.