The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/28 - Noa Bassel (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Noa Bassel (UMass Amherst)
Title: No choice: Anaphoric dependencies in the prepositional domain
Time: Tuesday, November 28th, 1pm – 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Pronominal elements have long been understood as cues for the length of linguistic dependencies. This is based on a regular morphology that targets pronouns in local dependencies and leaves long-distance pronouns unmarked, leading to the well-known complementarity between complex anaphors and simple pronouns.

The category of prepositions creates a gap in this respect, as it introduces positions in which the division of labor between anaphors and pronouns is inconsistent. In these environments, pronouns and anaphors may have the same reference (e.g., Max rolled the carpet over him/himself).

This has motivated claims that that PPs enable free choice between the anaphor and the pronoun, which speakers employ to convey nuanced semantic details and attitudes. Accordingly, P anaphors have so far seemed as an unreliable syntactic diagnostics and were largely ignored by theories of P syntax.

I will argue that P anaphors are restricted to local dependencies as in any other environment, and that the apparent freedom in pronoun choice follows from a robust structural ambiguity in the domain of prepositions.