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When bare nouns scope wide. The case of Malagasy

Abstract

Data from a wide range of languages appear to show that bare nouns take obligatory narrow scope. Research on bare nouns has therefore closely tied certain interpretative effects (low scope, number neutrality) to the special overt morphosyntax of bareness (Carlson 1977, inter alia). Thus there appears to be a tight connection between the syntax and the semantics of noun phrases. In this context, the goal of this article is two-fold. The first goal is to present data from Official Malagasy that call into question this correlation: bare nouns in the language can take variable scope. Thus the overt form of a nominal is not a reliable signal of its interpretation. Second, it is argued that bare nouns in Official Malagasy are in fact headed by a null determiner. Supporting data come from a related dialect, Antakarana, where bare nouns take obligatory narrow scope and there is no evidence for a null determiner.

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Notes

  1. I have used the standard orthography throughout. Abbreviations in this paper are:

    acc–accusative at–actor topic ct–circumstantial topic def–definite determiner
    det–determiner foc–focus particle fut–future gen–genitive
    neg–negation nom–nominative p–preposition prt–particle
    pst–past recip–reciprocal super–superlative top–topic particle
    tt–theme topic abs–absolutive abl–ablative ind–indicative
    tr–transitive dem–demonstrative c–complementizer ag–agent nominal
  2. The i in (2) is a determiner that occurs with certain proper names in both dialects.

  3. Throughout I use “noun phrase” and “nominal” to refer to the noun and any other elements with which it forms a constituent. “Bare nouns” in the languages under consideration are nouns that appear without functional elements such as determiners, demonstratives or case, but may (depending on the language) have adjectival or other modifiers.

  4. Page numbers are from the Garland edition.

  5. There is some debate among linguists in Madagascar over the nomenclature for the dialects, which are traditionally named after ethnic tribes. I use the name Antakarana in order to connect with previous literature on this dialect.

  6. As mentioned earlier, certain proper names are headed by the determiner i in both dialects, illustrated in (14).

  7. Antakarana sometimes uses the post-nominal modifier aby ‘all’ to mark plurality, but such marking is always optional.

    1. (i)
      figure j
  8. Paul (2009b) points out some exceptions: the complements of certain prepositions must be bare nouns and can be interpreted as either definite or indefinite; in this paper I focus on bare noun direct objects.

  9. Whether the bare noun is interpreted as mass or count has no bearing on the following argumentation.

  10. It should be noted, however, that the precise nature of this restriction remains poorly understood. As shown by Law (2006), Keenan (2008), and Paul (2009b) subjects in Official Malagasy can be interpreted as indefinite, despite the presence of the determiner. In Sect. 6 I propose that bare nouns cannot be subjects due to the presence of a null determiner. Thus the restriction is purely morphosyntactic and not semantic.

  11. As noted by an anonymous reviewer, these facts resemble Germanic object shift. There is, however, an important difference: in German, unlike in Malagasy, indefinites can undergo object shift, in which case they are interpreted as specific. See Diesing and Jelinek (1995) for discussion. I return to German briefly in Sect. 6.4.

  12. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for asking about these data.

  13. One Antakarana speaker reports the same judgments as for Official Malagasy: she allows object shift with non-bare nouns. I assume that this is due to influence from the official variety.

  14. Modification by a tensed relative clause is possible with specific types of pseudo noun incorporation (see Massam 2001:175–176), but is often reported in the literature as being impossible. See Sect. 6.2 for further discussion of the relevance of the facts in (36).

  15. Dayal (2011) notes that general number appears to depend on aspect: incorporated nouns in Hindi are interpreted as singular with accomplishments, but general number with activities (see also de Swart 2010). Malagasy bare nouns retain their general number, even with telic predicates. A discussion of Malagasy aspect is beyond the scope of this paper; I refer the interested reader to Travis (2010).

  16. The bare noun retains general number even with the wide scope interpretation. Both wide and narrow scope are available independently of the phonological rule of “combination” discussed in Sect. 4.2.

  17. It is always possible to refer back to the bare noun with a pronoun under the wide scope interpretation. I have not illustrated this possibility here because I am focusing on the scopal interpretation, not discourse transparency. See the introduction and footnote 19 for discussion.

  18. Note that the narrow scope reading in this example is entailed by the wide scope reading. It is impossible, however, to put a bare noun in the subject position, so the equivalent of ‘A student read every French book’ is ungrammatical in Official Malagasy.

  19. What is important in examples (48b,c) is that the bare noun scopes over negation, not that it is possible to refer to the bare noun with a pronoun. The availability of a discourse referent, as argued by Farkas and de Swart (2003), depends on the pronominal system of the language.

  20. As far as I have been able to determine, intermediate scope readings are only possible with bound pronouns, which require a determiner (therefore the nouns are not bare), as shown in (i). The judgments here are less clear than for the other data given in this paper, so I set aside any discussion for future research.

    1. (i)
      figure am
  21. In Mohawk, Mapudungun, Nahuatl, and possibly other languages, the incorporated nominal can be definite, generic, or nonspecific indefinite, but not specific indefinite (Mithun 1984; Baker 1996; Baker et al. 2004; Mark Baker, p.c.).

  22. Andrea Wilhelm (p.c.) asks whether narrow scope entails general number. Although this correlation appears to hold, I leave it for future research.

  23. For the purposes of this paper, I focus on the scope of bare nominals in Malagasy. As noted earlier, all nominals, whether bare or headed by a determiner, show general number.

  24. As pointed out to me by Andrea Wilhelm (p.c.) there may be a fourth option: NP (predicate) with covert shift to argument—Russian.

  25. The PF incorporation analysis is of course not applicable to Antakarana, where incorporated nouns take narrow scope.

  26. Unfortunately this is an example where the wide scope reading of the bare noun could be an instance of the narrow scope reading, but the men just happen to be working on the same engine. This is the only example of scopal interactions that Wojdak provides, however.

  27. It should be noted that Wojdak (2008:63–64) presents data showing that full DPs (with a determiner) cannot host incorporation. Thus for her, only NPs can host PF incorporation. Nuu-chah-nulth is therefore a language where NPs can take variable scope, an analysis that I rejected for Malagasy in Sect. 6.2.

  28. As noted by an anonymous reviewer, bare nouns do “combine” with nouns in compounds.

  29. In order to salvage the PF incorporation analysis, one could claim that agents also undergo PF incorporation and that the result is a verb, thus providing an appropriate host for the bare noun. In other words, in (59d), both the agent and the bare noun incorporate into the verb. Although such an account might work for cases where the genitive agent is a proper name, it would run into difficulties in cases with more complex noun phrase agents, such as in (i). See Travis (2005) for arguments that the D° of the genitive agent (ny) incorporates into the verbal complex.

    1. (i)
      figure az
  30. As noted in Sect. 4.2, German bare plurals can undergo object shift. According to my analysis, these bare plurals would be NPs, lacking a null determiner and therefore visible to movement. This account fits with Chierchia’s (1998) proposal that nouns in German are [+arg, +pred].

  31. I would like to thank one of the anonymous reviewers for asking about these data.

  32. In order for an NP to be visible to the EPP, we have to assume that the feature driving movement is not [D], per se, but some other feature sensitive to NPs. This assumption is necessary for all bare noun languages lacking D.

  33. Unlike Chinese, Antakarana is not a classifier language and may therefore be a [+arg, +pred] language. I leave the exploration of this issue for future research. What is crucial for my analysis is that NPs are argumental.

  34. It is also possible that the null D is on the right and therefore does not interfere with adjacency. This option strikes me as less plausible, given that Malagasy is otherwise strictly left-headed.

  35. Recent experimental evidence, however, suggests that English bare plurals are not in fact scopally inert (Que et al. 2009; Smits 2009; de Vries 2009; Le Bruyn et al. 2012).

  36. In addition, Fassi Fehri (2007:47) claims that bare nouns in Arabic take variable scope, but his data remain controversial and I set them aside here.

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Acknowledgements

This research would not be possible without the input from several native speakers of Malagasy: Crépin Bodihely, Jean Lewis Botouhely, Rita Hanitramalala, Jean Christophe Jaonesy, Dimby Rakotovahiny, Toky Rakotozafy, Tsiorimalala Randriambololona, Vololona Rasolofoson, Francine Razafimboaka, Martelline Razafindravola, Rado Razanajatovo, and Mathilde Zafindrazana. Unless otherwise indicated data are from elicitation sessions with these speakers. I would also like to thank Sandy Chung, Diane Massam, Lisa Matthewson, Hotze Rullmann, Andrea Wilhelm, as well as audiences at UBC and Utrecht, at the Mass/Count workshop at the University of Toronto, and at AFLA XVI at UC Santa Cruz for their comments. Many thanks to the NLLT reviewers for their insightful suggestions: this paper would not exist without their patience. All errors are my responsibility. This research was supported by the Canada Research Chair program, SSHRC (SRG410-2005-1758), and the University of Western Ontario.

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Paul, I. When bare nouns scope wide. The case of Malagasy. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 34, 271–305 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-015-9302-z

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Keywords

  • Malagasy
  • Bare nouns
  • Determiners
  • Noun phrase structure
  • Scope