Embedded presents and the structure of narratives

With Pranav Anand. To appear in Semantics and Linguistic Theory, 30.

The orthodox view of tense mandates that the present tense, when embedded under a past attitude predicate, should give rise soley to what is called a "double access" reading (Abusch 1997; Ogihara 1996; Ogihara & Sharvit 2012). We consider a class of embedded presents which locate the embedded eventuality neither at the time of utterance nor the time of the attitude. Unlike some other recently identified cases of ill-behaved embedded tenses, we argue that our embedded presents are instances of the historical present, a non-indexical use of the simple present. This assimilation requires abandoning current theories of the historical present, which treat it as a purely pragmatic contextual shift (Schlenker 2004; Anand & Toosarvandani 2017). Building on Lewis (1978), we introduce an intensional operator sensitive to a salient narrative in the context, which shifts a contextual time coordinate to a temporal vantage point on that narrative. This unifies our cases of embedded presents with their matrix counterparts, in fiction and non-fiction narratives alike.

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Encoding time in tenseless languages: The view from Zapotec

To appear in West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, 38.

Many Western American indigenous languages are tenseless. Under many contemporary accounts, the variation between tenseless languages and their tensed counterparts is mostly superficial. In both types of languages, finite clauses are thought to be anaphoric to a contextually salient "topic time", which serves to temporally locate the eventuality. But it is easy to imagine ways that a language could do without a topic time. One particularly interesting way has been suggested recently by Pancheva and Zubizarreta (2020) for Paraguayan Guaraní: eventualities are located at a contextual time parameter, a "now", that can be shifted into the past by the same mechanism that enables the present tense, in languages that have it, to describe past eventualities. I consider how common such topic-time-less languages are, and how it is possible to tell that a language lacks at topic time in the first place, by looking at Sierra Zapotec. Despite certain similarities to Guaraní, I argue that Sierra Zapotec’s temporal system must make reference to a topic time, a diagnosis that is crucially informed by looking at the temporal organization of narratives.

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Extending the Person–Case Constraint to gender: Agreement, locality, and the syntax of pronouns

With Steven Foley.

In many languages with clitic or other weak pronouns, a Person–Case Constraint (PCC) (Perlmutter 1971, Bonet 1991) prohibits certain combinations of these pronouns based on their person features. This paper explores the crosslinguistic variation in such constraints, starting with several closely-related Zapotec varieties. These restrict combinations of clitics based not just on person, but also on a finely articulated largely animacy-based gender system. Operating within a larger combinatorial space, these constraints offer a new perspective on the typology of Phi–Case Constraints (ΦCCs) more generally. This typology has an overall asymmetrical shape correlating with the underlying syntactic position of pronominal arguments. We develop a principled theory of this typology that incorporates three hypotheses: (i) ΦCCs arise from how a functional head Agrees with clitic pronouns, subject to intervention-based locality (Anagnostopoulou 2003, Béjar and Rezac 2003, 2009); (ii) the variation in these constraints arises from variation in the relativization of probes (Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007, 2011); and, (iii) clitic and other weak pronouns have no inherent need to be licensed via Agree with a functional head. Under this account, the crosslinguistic typology of ΦCCs has the potential to shed light on the grammatical representation of person and gender.

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Gender-Case Constraints in Zapotec

With Steven Foley and Nick Kalivoda. To appear in Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas (WSCLA) 22.

Person-Case Constraints (PCCs) prohibit certain combinations of clitic arguments based on their person features. We show that PCCs are mirrored in the domain of gender, drawing on data from several Zapotec varieties. These Gender-Constraint Constraints (GCCs) operate over a four-way gender distinction rather than a three-way person distinction, providing a clearer picture of how these constraints can vary across languages. In particular, we identify three crosslinguistic generalizations over the attested PCCs and GCCs, which can only be accounted for by a theory of clitic licensing in which more than one clitic can enter into an Agree relation with the probe (e.g. Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007, 2011).

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The featural life of nominals

With Ivy Sichel.

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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Pronouns and attraction in Sierra Zapotec

With Ivy Sichel. To appear in Syntax and Semantics at Santa Cruz 4.

Many languages have clitic or weak pronouns, which are displaced from their base argument position. What causes these pronouns to move, and what does pronoun movement have to tell us about displacement, more generally? We examine two classes of pronouns in Sierra Zapotec, which exhibit a distributional asymmetry: while clitic pronouns are perfectly grammatical without an accompanying independent pronoun, an independent pronoun often requires an accompanying clitic. We explore to what extent this asymmetry can be attributed to a theory in which pronoun movement is triggered by the properties of a functional head, as in an attraction theory of movement. This investigation provides a new perspective on the structural and derivational relationships between pronominal classes, as well as between classes of nominal arguments.

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