Language  (Vol. 92, No. 3) September 2016

Old English *motan, variable-force modality, and the presupposition of inevitable actualization

Igor Yanovich, Universitat Tibingen

Old English *motan and Middle English *moten, the ancestors of modern must, are commonly described as ambiguous between a possibility and a necessity reading. I argue instead that in the Alfredian Old English prose, *motan was a non-ambiguous, “variable-force” modal with the modal force different from both possibility and necessity. I propose that *motan’s variable-force effect was due to the presupposition of a collapse between possibility and necessity. Informally, motan(p) presupposed “if p gets a chance to actualize, it will”. I then trace the development of *motan into a modal genuinely ambiguous between necessity and possibility in Early Middle English.


Scalar marking without scalar meaning: Nonscalar, nonexhaustive even-marked NPIs in Greek and Korean

Anastasia Giannakidou, University of Chicago Arlington, and Suwon Yoon, University of Texas

This article discusses in detail two cases of even-marked negative polarity items (NPIs) in Greek and Korean that are not scalar or exhaustive. This prima facie paradoxical finding suggests that even-marking is not always an indicator of scalarity—and, at least in the case of the Korean and Greek NPIs discussed, even is grammaticalized as a nonscalar NPI marker. We propose that these nonscalar NPIs are antispecific indefinites with referential vagueness, which is a form of ignorance best captured as nonexhaustive variation in the potential values of the NPIs (Giannakidou & Quer 2013). We also show that the difference in Greek and Korean between scalar and nonscalar NPIs is reflected in prosody: scalar NPIs are ‘emphatic’, and nonscalar NPIs are ‘nonemphatic’; we therefore conclude that prosodic prominence, not even, signals scalar structure. The fact that not all NPIs are scalar or exhaustive falsifies theories claiming that exhaustivity is the source of all NPIs (Chierchia 2006, 2013).


Asymmetries in the Representation of categorical phonotactics

Gillian Gallagher, New York University

A comparison of speakers’ treatment of two categorically unattested phonotactic structures in Cochabamba Quechua reveals a stronger grammatical prohibition on roots with pairs of ejectives, *[k’ap’u], than on roots with a plain stop followed by an ejective, *[kap’u]. While the distribution of ejectives can be stated as a single restriction on ejectives preceded by stops (ejective or plain), *[-cont, -son][cg], speakers’ show evidence of having learned an additional constraint that penalizes cooccurring ejectives more harshly, *[cg][cg]. An inductive learning bias in favor of constraints with the algebraic structure of *[cg][cg] is hypothesized (Berent et al. 2002; Berent et al. 2012; Marcus 2001), allowing such constraints to be preferred by learners over constraints like *[-cont, -son][+cg], which penalize sequences of unrelated feature matrices.


The discourse basis of ergativity revisted

Geoffrey Haig, University of Bamberg and Stefan Schnell, University of Melbourne

Since Du Bois’ 1987b seminal paper, ergative alignment in morphosyntax has been claimed to correlate with a characteristic constellation of argument realization in discourse: both intransitive subjects (S) and transitive objects (P) serve to introduce new referents via full noun phrases (NPs), while transitive subjects (A) are dispreferred for this function, and are thus mostly realised as pronouns or zero (e.g. Dixon 1995; Du Bois et al 2003; Goldberg 2004). This ergative patterning in discourse is generally accounted for in terms of information management strategies employed by speakers in dealing with the cognitive demands of introducing and monitoring referents in discourse. These claims have recently been questioned by Everett 2009, whose data (English and Portugese) show no support for the claimed ergative bias in discourse, and raise doubts regarding explanations in terms of information management strategies. The present paper subjects the claims for an ergative bias in discourse to more rigorous testing, drawing on the largest database compiled to date (19 spoken language corpora from 15 typologically diverse languages), and assesses the explanatory frameworks. We find that with the exception of Du Bois’ original Sakapultek data, there is very little evidence for the postulated ergative pattern in natural spoken language discourse crosslinguistically. Although our findings do confirm the low levels of full NPs in the A role (Du Bois’ ‘Non-lexical A’ Constraint), we concur with Everett 2009 that the semantic feature of [+/–human] provides an empirically sounder and conceptually more economical account than earlier explanations framed in terms of information management. Finally, we address the plausibility of emergentist claims for a diachronic link between ergative alignment in morphosyntax, and information flow in discourse. Supplementary materials to this article, including the raw data and extensive exemplification of methodology, are available online.


SNAP Judgments: A Small N Acceptability Paradigm (SNAP) for Linguistic Acceptability Judgments

Kyle Mahowald, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Peter Graff, Intel Corporation, Jeremy Hartman, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Edward Gibson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

While published linguistic judgments sometimes differ from the judgments found in large-scale formal experiments with naïve participants, there is not a consensus as to how often these errors occur nor as to how often formal experiments should be used in syntax and semantics research. First, we present results of a large-scale replication of Sprouse, Schütze, and Almeida (2013) on 100 English contrasts randomly sampled from Linguistic Inquiry 2001-2010 and tested in both a forced-choice experiment and an acceptability rating experiment. Like Sprouse, Schütze, and Almeida, we find that the effect sizes of published linguistic acceptability judgments are not uniformly large or consistent but rather form a continuum from very large effects to small or non-existent effects. We then use this data as a prior in a Bayesian framework to propose a Small N Acceptability Paradigm for Linguistic Acceptability Judgments (SNAP Judgments). This proposal makes it easier and cheaper to obtain meaningful quantitative data in syntax and semantics research. Specifically, for a contrast of linguistic interest for which a researcher is confident that Sentence A is better than Sentence B, we recommend that the researcher should obtain judgments from at least 5 unique participants, using at least 5 unique sentences of each type. If all participants in the sample agree that Sentence A is better than Sentence B, then the researcher can be confident that the result of a full forced choice experiment would likely be 75% or more agreement in favor of Sentence A (with a mean of 93%). We test this proposal by sampling from the existing data and find that it gives reliable performance.


Linguistic reference in the negotiation of identity and action: revisiting the T/V distinction

Chase Wesley Raymond, University of Colorado Boulder

The present study uses naturally-occurring conversational data from various dialects of Spanish to examine the role of 2nd-person (T/V) reference forms in the accomplishment of social action in interaction. We illustrate how the turn-by-turn progression of talk can occasion shifts in the linguistic means through which speakers refer to their hearers, an interactional commonality between dialects (and possibly languages) which are otherwise pronominally dissimilar. These shifts contribute to the action of an utterance by mobilizing the semantic meaning of a pronominal form to recalibrate who the interactants project they are, and who they project they are to one another—not in general, but rather at that particular moment in the ongoing interaction. The analysis posits a distinction between identity STATUS and identity STANCE to argue in favor of a more micro-level conceptualization of identities and contexts as emergent features of moment-by-moment discourse, co-constructed through the deployment of grammatical structure.


Online-only: Phonological Analysis

An overview of Kabaraski verb tone

Kristopher J. Ebarb, University of Missouri

This article present the results of a study of verbal tone patterns in Kabarasi [lkb], a Kenyan Bantu language of the Luhya [luy] group. Kabarasi tone has a number of features that are common to Bantu languages (Kisseberth & Odden 2003, Downing 2011, Marlo & Odden 2017), including a lexical contrast between /H/ and /Ø/ verb roots and a rich system of tonal inflection. Long H spans that extend across several words may be created by a pair of iterative, mutually-feeding rules. One of these rules only applies across word boundaries and exhibits look-ahead effects; the other motivates a novel morpho-phonological domain: the limitative stem.


Online-only: Teaching Linguistics

Constructed languages in the classroom

Nathan Sanders, Swarthmore College

Constructed languages (purposefully invented languages like Esperanto and Klingon) have long captured the human imagination. They can also be used as pedagogical tools in the linguistics classroom to enhance how certain aspects of linguistics are taught and to broaden the appeal of linguistics as a field. In this paper, I discuss the history and nature of constructed languages and describe various ways I have successfully brought them into use in the linguistics classroom. I conclude from the results of my courses that linguists should take a closer look at how they might benefit from similarly enlisting this often criticized hobby into more mainstream use in the linguistics classroom.




Future Issues