Jessica Coon at Leipzig and UCLA

Jessica Coon presented collaborative work with recent postdoctoral fellow, Nico Baier, and with Ted Levin at two invited talks recently: November 11th at Leipzig University, and November 20th at UCLA. The title and abstract are below. A manuscript version is available on LingBuzz:

“Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint”

Many languages of the Mayan family restrict the extraction of transitive (ergative) subjects for focus, wh-questions, and relativization (Ā-extraction). We follow Aissen (2017) in labelling this restriction the ergative extraction constraint (EEC). In this paper, we offer a unified account of the EEC within Mayan languages, as well as an analysis of the special construction known as Agent Focus (AF) used to circumvent it. Specifically, we propose that the EEC has a similar source across the subset of Mayan languages which exhibit it: intervention. The intervention problem is created when an object DP structurally intervenes between the Ā-probe on C and the ergative subject. Evidence that intervention by the object is the source of the problem comes from a handful of exceptional contexts which permit transitive subjects to extract in languages which normally ban this extraction. We argue specifically that the problem with Ā-extracting the ergative subject across the intervening object connects to the requirements of the Ā-probe on C: the probe on C is bundled to search simultaneously for [Ā] and [D] features. Adapting the proposal of Coon and Keine (to appear), we argue that in configurations in which a DP object intervenes between the probe on C and an Ā-subject, conflicting requirements on movement lead to a derivational crash. This paper both contributes to our understanding of parametric variation internal to the Mayan family, as well as to the discussion of variation in Ā-extraction asymmetries and syntactic ergativity cross-linguistically.

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