Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 1–59 | Cite as

Samoan predicate initial word order and object positions

  • James N. Collins


Verb-initial ordering may be derived by fronting the VP (or a larger constituent) to a specifier position higher than the subject. For VSO languages, this analysis requires that the object raise out of the VP to a position below the subject before the (remnant) VP fronts to the higher position. This paper builds a comprehensive analysis of VSO order in the Polynesian language Samoan, employing the VP-fronting analysis, arguing the account does better than competing derivational accounts (e.g., a head movement account). I argue that evidence for the raising of the complement of V to a VP-external position comes from data showing that the coordination of unaccusative and unergative verbs is not possible in Samoan. This paradigm has a ready explanation under the VP-fronting account: as the complement of V must raise out of the VP before VP-fronting takes place, unaccusative subject DPs are predicted to bind a VP-internal copy. This blocks coordination with unergative VPs which do not contain DP copies (via the Coordinate Structure Constraint). I provide a generalized account of DP movement whereby the functional head v is specified to trigger the movement of all DPs in its local c-command domain to its projected specifier positions. In cases where v does not locally c-command any DP, the requirement is trivially satisfied. I show how this accounts for the observed VSO/VOS word order alternations in Samoan.


Word order Argument structure Coordination VP fronting Incorporation Little v Samoan Polynesian Austronesian 



Thanks to Emily Sataua, Joey Zodiacal, Vince Schwenke-Enoka, and Fautua Tuamasaga Falefa for their time as native speaker consultants. Thanks also to Rajesh Bhatt, Dylan Bumford, William Foley, Vera Gribanova, Boris Harizanov, Beth Levin, Line Mikkelsen, Christopher Potts, Kristine Yu, three anonymous reviewers at NLLT and the editor Julie Anne Legate insightful comments. Earlier versions of this work were presented at the 89th Linguistics Society of America annual meeting (2014) and the 32nd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics at University of Southern California (2014). Thanks to the reviewers and audiences at these conferences for valuable comments. All errors are my own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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