Syntax-semantics reading group, 11/12 – Christopher Davis

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, November 12th at 2:30pm. Christopher Davis will be presenting joint work with Rajesh Bhatt, “Number and Honor in Hindi-Urdu”. This week’s meeting will take place in a hybrid format, where the speaker and some of us will be in room 117, and others will be on Zoom as usual. We’d like to encourage students to come to the meeting in-person. Please email Junko ( if you’d like to participate in the meeting in room 117. If it turns out that there are more than 12 people, priorities will be given to the 1st and 2nd year graduate students.
Abstract: In many languages (in particular, those from the Indo-European family), the second person plural pronoun can be used with a singular referent, in which case the plural feature is not interpreted for number, but instead signals politeness, formality, or some similar sociopragmatic relationship between the speaker and addressee. In Hindi, this kind of “honorific plural” is found in third person as well as second person nominals. In this talk, we first show how honorific third person subjects trigger plural agreement in Hindi, while requiring the honored head noun itself to appear with singular inflection. After giving an analysis of third person cases, we turn to second person pronouns with singular reference, which show a three-way distinction between rude, neutral, and honorific forms. Of these forms, only the “rude” form is formally singular, while the neutral and honorific forms are both formally plural, triggering plural agreement, despite having singular reference. We show that the formal plural feature of the neutral second person singular pronoun is “more defective” than that of the honorific second person singular pronoun, in that it only triggers plural agreement in cases where number agreement morphology is a portmanteau with other agreement morphology. We present a preliminary analysis of the system, arguing that Hindi has two distinct kinds of “pseudo-plural” feature. One of these is associated with honorific semantics and triggers regular agreement, while the other is an atavistic feature with no synchronic semantic correlate, and is more defective in its ability to trigger plural agreement. We point to a number of remaining issues whose analysis we are currently working on, including the question of how the semantics of the system should be modeled and integrated with the morphosyntax.

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