The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/10 - Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)
Title: Two paths to explain
Time: Tuesday, November 10th, 1pm – 2pm

Abstract: In this talk, I show that Russian CPs that combine with the verb objasnit’ ‘explain’ have two interpretations: they can denote what was said as an explanation (explanans) or what has been explained (explanandum):

(1) Lena objasnila [CP čto xleba net.]
Lena explained COMP bread no
Lena explained that there is no bread.’
a. Explanans: Lena said “there is no bread” as an explanation of some other fact (e.g., of the fact that she sent Petya to the grocery store).
b. Explanandum: Lena explained the fact that there’s no bread (e.g., by saying “Katya made sandwiches last night”).

I show that the two readings go hand in hand with a number of differences in argument structure, event structure and extraction, and argue that objasnit’ can either denote a state of something being explained or a process of explaining, and the two denotations correspond to two different mappings to syntax. Explanandum CPs combine as modifiers of internal arguments (Kratzer 2006, Moulton 2015), while explanans CPs combine as event modifiers which specify the Content of the explaining process (Bogal-Allbritten 2016, Elliott 2017). Finally, I show that ‘explain’ is not unique in exhibiting this ambiguity, and verbs like argumentirovat’ ‘argue’, obosnovat’ ‘justify’, predskazat’ ‘predict’, utochnit’ ‘clarify, make specific’ have the same two readings.