The interpretation and grammatical representation of animacy

To appear, Language.

We are used to thinking about person, number, and gender as features to which the grammar is sensitive. But the place of animacy is less familiar, despite its robust syntactic activity in many languages. I investigate the pronominal system of Southeastern Sierra Zapotec, identifying an interpretive parallel between animacy and person. Third person plural pronouns, which encode a four-way animacy distinction in the language, exhibit a cluster of interpretive properties; this associativity has been argued also to characterize first and second person plural pronouns. Building on Kratzer's (2009) and Harbour's (2016) theories of person, I propose a plurality-based semantics for animacy that captures these shared properties with person. The compositional mechanism underlying this semantics ties person and animacy features to a single syntactic locus in the nominal structure. This enables an understanding of these features' shared relevance to the syntactic operation underlying pronominal cliticization. In these Zapotec varieties, it is constrained both by person (as in the well-known Person Case Constraint) and by animacy

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The featural life of nominals

With Ivy Sichel. To appear, Linguistic Inquiry.

We introduce a novel locality violation and its repair in Sierra Zapotec: an object pronoun cannot cliticize when the subject is a lexical DP. This locality effect differs from more familiar ones (e.g., superiority) because the lexical DP does not move. We argue that it is nonetheless able to Agree, consistent with the idea that locality conditions apply to Agree, rather than to a separate movement component. We develop an account in which pronouns and lexical DPs interact with the same probe because they share featural content. In particular, we suggest that the person domain extends to include non-pronominal DPs, so that all nominals are specified for a feature we call δ (to resonate with DP); all and only personal pronouns are specified for π. This account requires a departure from Chomsky's (2000, 2001) classical system of featural co-variation (Agree). A functional head must be able to participate in overprobing, interacting with a goal even though its requirements would appear to be met. We introduce a probe activation model for Agree, in which, after applying once, the operation can but not need apply again. We also consider two other mechanisms recently proposed to derive overprobing — Deal's (2015, 2020) "insatiable probes" and Coon & Keine's (to appear) "feature gluttony" — though neither is able to account for the locality pattern.

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Redundancy and restriction in the derivation of relative clauses

With John Duff and Ivy Sichel. To appear in Syntax and Semantics at Santa Cruz (SASC) 5.

Relative clauses have long been known to be heterogenous, both structurally and interpretatively. One particularly important empirical division distinguishes restrictive relative clauses from appositive relative clauses, which have interpretive differences that have been taken to arise from distinct hierarchical arrangements. In this paper, we consider how tight the mapping between the syntax and semantics of relative clauses is, in light of data from Santiago Laxopa Zapotec (SLZ). The language has two relative clause structures: bare relative clauses (BRCs) and complex relative clauses (CRCs), which contain an additional "classifier" element. We argue that BRCs are restrictive relative clauses, and that their incompatibility with proper names and demonstratives arises from a constraint on semantic redundancy. CRCs, which do not exhibit either of these restrictions can function as appositives, something that is only possible if they are not subject to a redundancy constraint as BRCs are. We do not advance a full account of why this might be, though we do show that CRCs have a different structure than BRCs.

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Narrative and point of view

With Pranav Anand. To appear in Linguistics meets philosophy (Cambridge University Press), Daniel Altshuler, ed.

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Readers access discourse representations rapidly during alternative set activation

With Morwenna Hoeks and Amanda Rysling.

Linguistic focus triggers the activation of contrastive alternatives, with priming studies suggesting that comprehenders first activate semantic associates, and then select alternatives from among them: the Activation-Selection model (Husband and Ferreira 2015). However, reading, memory, and visual world studies have shown that comprehenders also utilize world-knowledge and discourse information to identify alternatives (Sedivy, 2002; Fraundorf et al., 2013; Kim et al., 2015). A conservative extension of the Activation-Selection model, in which discourse information is used in addition to structural information to select appropriate alternatives, predicts that any effect of the contextual (in)appropriateness of alternatives should not be contemporaneous with the effect of semantic association—contextual information should be used only after semantic association has activated an initial candidate set. Three Maze reading studies tested these predictions. In Experiment 1, at a stage of processing where effects of semantic association were still active, slowdowns were observed on expressions that were contextually ruled out as possible alternatives to a preceding focus, despite being explicitly mentioned in the context. Moreover, in Experiment 1, slowdowns due to contextual exclusion were found on non-associated alternatives, suggesting that contextually appropriate alternatives are not solely selected by suppressing activation on semantic associates. These slowdowns must be attributed to comprehension processes initiated by a reader when encountering linguistic focus. In Experiment 2, they disappeared when an explicit cue to a focus (a focus particle) was absent. Contextual exclusion slowdowns were also observed at a later stage of processing in Experiment 3, after effects of semantic association had disappeared. We propose a less conservative extension of the Activation-Selection model, in which comprehenders rapidly access discourse information to rule out salient potential alternatives whose activation does not depend solely on the priming of semantic associates.

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Processing of linguistic focus depends on contrastive alternatives

With Morwenna Hoeks and Amanda Rysling. To appear, Journal of Memory and Language.

Readers progressed through a sentence in the Maze task, deciding at each word between a sensical and a non-sensical continuation. Contexts presented before these target sentences manipulated whether a focus (either free or bound by only or an it-cleft) was given or new, whether contrastive alternatives to focused words were present, and whether a semantically associated expression was present independently of the presence of a contrastive alternative. Readers slowed down less when an alternative was present in the context, even when this alternative was not semantically associated to the target. These results indicate that the processing of focus depends on contrastive alternatives, in their interaction with newness, semantic association, and focus construction.

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Evidence for a universal parsing principle in Santiago Laxopa Zapotec

With Kelsey Sasaki, Steven Foley, Jed Pizarro-Guevara, Fe Silva-Robles, and Matt Wagers.

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