The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 12/14 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Constructing pseudo-clefts
Time/date: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, I present data with implications for the syntax and semantics of specificational pseudo-clefts: cases where the post-copular XP contains an adverbial, e.g. (1).

(1) a. What Obama approved was [this bill and, with difficulty, that bill].
b. What Obama approved was [this bill and possibly that bill].

First, I relate these data to a syntactic debate. Illustrating with the simple pseudo-cleft in (2), one approach posits just the structure apparent in the surface string, (2a) (e.g. Jacobson 1994, Sharvit 1999, Caponigro & Heller 2015), while a second approach takes the overt post-copular material to be the remnant of a full clause otherwise elided, (2b) (e.g. Ross 1972, den Dikken et al. 2000, Schlenker 1998/2003).

(2) What Obama approved was this bill.
a. [what Obama approved was [this bill]]
b. [what Obama approved was [<Obama approved> this bill]]

I argue that clausal structure is required to host certain adverbs, so data like (1) provide new evidence for ellipsis. In particular, the structure for (1a) has this bill and that bill the remnants of two separate elided clauses, conjoined by and; the PP is adjoined to the TP in the second conjunct. Other tests adapted from Hirsch (2015) further support ellipsis.

Second, I will show that the adverb data pose a challenge for current approaches to the semantics of pseudo-clefts (citations above), and explore a new compositional analysis which crucially relies on the syntactic results in the first part of the talk.