Syntax & Semantics Circle

University of California, Santa Cruz

fall 2016

January 13

Sandy Chung & Matt Wagers (UC Santa Cruz): “Competition among pronouns in the grammar of Chamorro reflexives”

Safir (2014) proposes that all bound variable pronouns in natural language which are c-commanded by their antecedents realize a single dependent form, which he calls D-bound. In his system, D-bound — the “one true syntactically sensitive anaphor” — is the dependent element in bound anaphora, whether the antecedent is local or long-distance. Principle A effects arise when a language’s morphological spell-out of D-bound is sensitive to whether it is in the same phase as its antecedent. Principle B effects arise because ordinary, ‘natural-born’ pronouns with the same (bound) construal always lose in the competition with D-bound.

Safir’s system predicts the existence of languages in which locally-bound (‘reflexive’) instances of D-bound have the same morphological spell-out as natural-born pronouns, although — as he observes — such languages are rare. He claims that the prevalence of morphological reflexives (e.g. English themselves) “is a form of morphological conservation reacting to functional pressure for local anaphora resolution where possible” (2014: 119).

When ‘reflexive’ D-bound is morphologically indistinguishable from natural-born pronouns, how do comprehenders navigate the task of construal? Chamorro, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands, provides a window onto this question. In Chamorro, (1) ‘reflexive’ D-bound generally has the same morphological spell-out as natural-born pronouns. However, (2) if ‘reflexive’ D-bound is a direct object, reflexivity can optionally be signaled with the postverbal adverb maisa ‘self’. Further, (3) ‘reflexive’ D-bound, when an object, must be spelled out as an overt proform — it cannot be null. Finally, (4) clauses with a ‘reflexive’ D-bound object evade Chamorro’s Person–Animacy Hierarchy (PAH), which bans transitive clauses in which the direct object is a (natural-born) pronoun but the subject is a nonpronoun.

If D-bound universally outcompetes natural-born pronouns with the same (bound) construal, and Chamorro maisa signals locally bound anaphora resolution, then we make several predictions about how comprehenders will construe the overt object proform gui’, which could realize D-bound or a natural-born 3SG pronoun. We discuss a touch-tracking picture-matching experiment we conducted in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 2016 to test these predictions.

(Joint work with Manuel F. Borja, Inetnon Åmot yan Kutturan Natibu, CNMI)