The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 4/23 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: Feature licensing and the number interpretation of bare nominals in Wolof
Time: Thursday, April 23rd, 12:30pm – 2pm

Abstract: Several languages allow for their nominals to occur without any functional morphology, including determiners and number. They are dubbed ‘bare nominals’ (BNs). BNs are often number-neutral, i.e., there is no commitment to a singular or plural interpretation. In Wolof, however, BNs are singular. This can be argued based on, e.g. the impossibility of saturating a collective predicate, on the fact that they must be referred to by a singular pronoun and that they cannot be the antecedent of plural reflexives. However, a plural interpretation becomes available when a nominal-internal plural feature is exponed in the form of complementizer or possessum agreement. The generalization is that BNs in Wolof are singular, unless plural morphology is exponed. I propose an extension of Béjar & Rezac’s (2003) Person Licensing Condition to number: a marked number feature (i.e. plural) must be licensed by Agree. BNs in Wolof can in principle be singular or plural. In the absence of a nominal-internal probe that Agrees with the plural feature of the BN, the Number Licensing Condition (NLC) is violated, causing the derivation to crash. Unmarked number, i.e., singular, is stipulated not to obey the NLC, so the derivation converges, yielding a singular BN. However, if there is a number probe, which is realized as complementizer or possessum agreement, the NLC is satisfied, allowing a derivation to converge where the BN is plural. If correct, this analysis accounts for the typologically unusual behavior of BNs in Wolof and provides empirical support for the view that valued features are responsible for nominal licensing (Kalin: 2017; 2019).