April 3, 2015

Guest speaker: Lauren Eby Clemens (McGill University)

We're pleased to welcome Lauren Eby Clemens on Friday the 10th. Lauren is a theoretical linguist keenly interested in syntax, phonology, and the intersection thereof; she earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2014 under the supervision of Maria Polinsky and is now a postdoctoral researcher at McGill.

She will be giving a talk on her research in an extended meeting of the Syntax/Semantics Squib Section: Friday, April 10, 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM, in SS 560A: "The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure: A look at Chol and Niuean."

This talk explores the possibilities and limitations for using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure in the context of two verb-initial (V1) languages – Chol (Mayan) and Niuean (Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic) – that display similar patterns of word order variation (Coon 2010; Massam 2001). To date, no consensus has emerged among syntacticians about how to derive V1 order, but three approaches have received particularly widespread support: 1) right-branching specifier, 2) VP-fronting, and 3) head movement. These three syntactic analyses make different predictions for the assignment of prosodic structure, which can be cached out in Match Theory (Selkirk 2011). Match Theory posits violable constraints calling for isomorphism between syntactic and prosodic constituents. Here, I argue that the right-branching specifier account should be rejected in favor of a movement account based on the prosodic realization of different V1 structures in these languages. However, prosodic arguments alone cannot reliably distinguish between the two movement accounts under consideration (head movement and VP-fronting). Instead, I show how prosodic arguments can be used in conjunction with syntactic arguments to solve problems of syntactic structure and constituency.

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