Departmental talk, 2/12 – Michelle Yuan

Please join us for a talk by Michelle Yuan (University of Chicago).
Coordinates: Tuesday 2/12 at 3:30pm in Wilson Hall WPRoom (room 118)
Title: Pronoun movement and doubling in Inuktitut (and beyond)

A key working hypothesis in generative linguistic research is that the syntax of natural language is organized by a finite set of abstract principles with a constrained space for potential variation. A natural consequence of this view is that linguistic phenomena that appear unrelated on the surface may in fact be underlyingly linked—and, as such, are expected to interact in systematic ways. This talk offers a case study of this idea from Inuktitut (part of the Inuit dialect continuum), in which the underlying status of the object agreement morphemes predicts properties of seemingly independent aspects of the grammar, such as ergativity and the spell-out of movement copies.
I begin by establishing that the object agreement morphemes in Inuktitut are morphologically reduced pronouns doubling full DPs, rather than exponents of phi-agreement, and that the pronominal nature of these morphemes interacts fundamentally with other properties of Inuktitut syntax. First, I show that this idea may be subsumed within previously-noticed differences in the distribution of ergative case morphology across the Inuit dialect continuum (e.g. Johns 2001, Carrier 2017). From there, I present a novel analysis that links variation in ergative alignment in Inuit to variation in object movement. Second, the proposal that these object agreement forms are syntactically pronouns offers a new window into Cardinaletti & Starke’s (1994) strong vs. deficient pronoun distinction. I recast this well-known contrast as following from a small set of morphological conditions on chain pronunciation and copy spell-out (Landau 2006). As independent evidence for this approach, these conditions are shown in Inuktitut to both constrain the distribution of strong pronouns and extend straightforwardly to certain recalcitrant aspects of noun incorporation.

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