Syntax-semantics reading group, 12/17 – Henry Davis

Our final presentation this semester will be Henry Davis and it will take place this Friday, December 17th at 2:30pm. Reminder that this week’s meeting will once again 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, there are still lots of spots available. Please email Jonny 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.
Edge asymmetries in V-initial systems – the view from Salish

Abstract: The Salish language family comprises (along with neighbouring families in the Pacific NW Sprachbund) one of the largest concentrations of V-initial systems in the world. Yet compared to better known V-initial families (e.g. Malayo-Polynesian, Mayan, or Celtic) it has had comparatively little influence on ongoing debates on the essential properties of such systems (or indeed, if such properties exist). I’m certainly not going to resolve those debates here, but I do want to bring some salient properties of Salish grammars to the table. I’ll be focusing on a fundamental asymmetry between the pre-predicative and post-predicative domains. The distribution of pre-predicative elements in many Salish languages is highly restricted – not surprisingly, given that such restrictions are constitutive of V-initial syntax – but in a rather particular way: it is the left edge which is restricted, not the pre-predicative domain in general. For example, a subject can occur pre-predicatively, but only if it is ‘shielded’ on its left edge by an auxiliary, leading to AUX-S-V-(O) order. I show that the shielding effect cannot be reduced to particular syntactic positions: both the shielded and the shielding element can be at different heights in the tree. Furthermore, left edge restrictions contrast with freedom on the right periphery: not only is post-predicative order flexible, but right-peripheral subjects can occupy positions at varying heights in the tree. I propose that specifiers can freely merge either to the left or right, but are independently restricted by the left edge constraint, accounting for the asymmetry. Finally, I speculate that the left edge constraint is fundamentally – though not necessarily directly – prosodic in nature: it can be violated just in case a left peripheral element constitutes its own intonation phrase.

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