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Verb phrase external arguments in Mande

New evidence for obligatory extraposition

Abstract

Mande languages are well-known for their rigid SOVX word order: verb phrases cannot accommodate postpositional phrases, and all oblique arguments must appear after the main verb. This study explores, based on data from Wan (Southeastern Mande), new evidence for syntactic constituency that is essential for developing a formal account of this typologically unusual pattern. First, I show that previously unexplored tonal evidence rules out argument raising accounts. Tone is sensitive in Wan to prosodic phrasing, which is in turn closely related to syntactic constituency; the way postpositional arguments are prosodically integrated into the clause points to their unusually high, clause-level attachment. Second, I argue against a base-generation analysis, which would require a serious modification of the Projection Principle and locality of selection. Third, an analysis based on obligatory extraposition is discussed as the remaining option in transformational frameworks.

While accounting for both semantic and tonal evidence, the extraposition account has to rely on a highly unusual kind of filter to rule out all structures where a PP argument appears clause-internally. Accounts postulating such idiosyncratic filters can hardly be considered satisfying, as they merely model constraints on surface structure, without deriving them from underlying structural properties. The obligatory argument extraposition of Mande languages receives a more elegant explanation in constraint-based, surface-oriented theories, which do not need to introduce special devices to handle the basic word order of Mande languages. I illustrate this with a sketch of an account coached in the framework of Lexical-Functional Grammar.

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Notes

  1. Cf. Greenberg’s (1963:109) dubious classification of Mande languages as VO, repeated in Hawkins (1983:332).

  2. In Mande studies, the auxiliary-like elements are traditionally referred to as predicative markers. Unlike prototypical auxiliaries, they do not share any properties with verbs, and usually do not derive from verbs.

  3. I use the notion “main verb” to refer both to finite verbs (in the languages that have them) and to verbs that appear with auxiliary-like elements in S-Aux-O-V structures. The two types of verb behave identically with respect to word order.

  4. Here and elsewhere I retain the original orthography of the primary sources.

  5. In generative frameworks, subcategorization frames are used to specify the number and types of a word’s argument.

  6. I cannot discuss here whether argument raising accounts work well for Germanic verb clusters (for alternative approaches and further discussion, see Bresnan et al. 1982; Zaenen and Kaplan 1995; Evers 2003, inter alia).

  7. This is the first time the relation between tone and syntax is described for Wan, and I do not adopt any particular theory of the correspondence between syntactic and prosodic constituency (for a recent theoretical overview, see (Selkirk 2011); for a recent analysis of mismatches between syntactic and prosodic constituency, based on Irish, see Bennett et al. 2016).

  8. For an influential treatment of OCP-related effects in another Mande language, Mende, see Leben (1978), and Singler (1980), Conteh et al. (1983) for alternative accounts.

  9. The structure of prosodic words also plays a role in tonal realization; in particular, it is relevant to dissimilation (rule iii). I cannot go into the details, as they are orthogonal to the purposes of this study.

  10. The phonological phrasing indicated by brackets is not important in these examples (since rule i is not restricted to phonological phrases), but it will be very important later.

  11. I leave open the question of whether rule (i) should actually be viewed as two separate rules; my unified treatment is based on the assumption that intonational phrases end in a phrasal tone that produces an effect similar to L and M.

  12. I do not have evidence that would distinguish this formulation of the rule from one that would assign M to lexically toneless TBUs. On the current version of the account, [M] is a realization associated both with M and with the absence of tone. Absence of lexical tone is distinguished from M by its variable realization in some syntactic environments, where either H or L is assigned to the toneless TBU by rule (i) or rule (ii). M is realized as [M] in all contexts.

  13. Most property-denoting words behave syntactically as nouns, and appear in constructions that can be literally translated as, for example, “red of lizard” = ‘red lizard.’

  14. The compounds differ from the possessive construction both semantically and morphosyntactically (indefinite possessors are marked by lengthening, and pronominal possessors are encoded by a specialized set of “alienable” pronouns).

  15. I am only concerned here with natural-sounding examples of reasonable length. It is likely that extra-long constituents will be systematically split into several prosodic phrases.

  16. This suggests the possibility of associating right edges of intonational phrases with a structural M tone. This effect is independent of utterance type, making it difficult to account for it in terms of intonational tone along the lines suggested by Hyman and Monaka (2011) or Gussenhoven (2000).

  17. As expected of prosodic units, tonal realization interacts with pauses. Pauses indicate the end of an intonational phrase, and prevent rules (ii) and (iii) from applying.

  18. I leave open the question of the type of adjunction involved in productive compounding and cliticization; what is crucial for the analysis is that it allows words to be joined at a level lower than XP, i.e. within the X’ domain.

  19. Among recent work on phrase level tonology, Harry and Hyman (2014) discuss tonal schemas assigned by specific constructions in Kalabari; for illustrations of the intimate relationship between tone and syntactic constituency, see also Cole-Beuchat (1961), Leben and Ahoua (1997), McPherson (2013), Heath and McPherson (2013), Downing (2013), Konoshenko (2014), McPherson and Heath (2016). For a recent discussion of prosodic factors in shaping constituent order, see Bennett et al. (2016).

  20. The Projection Principle as formulated by Chomsky (1981:29) states that “[r]epresentations at each syntactic level (i.e., LF, and D- and S-structure) are projected from the lexicon, in that they observe the subcategorization properties of lexical items.” Various versions of locality of selection go back to Chomsky’s (1965) “strict locality” and require subcategorized elements to appear within a local projection, cf. Sportiche et al. (2013): “elements entering selectional relations with a head H, H’ or HP must be sisters to H, to H’ or to HP.”

  21. Note that the tonal realization of the lexically toneless argument of the postposition is predicted by the separate prosodic phrasing of the PP: the lexically toneless word is not assigned a L.

  22. I assume here that oblique arguments are generated in a position preceding the verb, like objects, but nothing hinges on this, and they could also be generated in a position following the verb.

  23. Another problem this type of account would have to address is the difference in the behavior of postpositional arguments (which must be extraposed to the right) and adjuncts (which can be alternatively extraposed to the left). Additional constraints would have to be imposed to distinguish between the ways in which arguments and adjunct “flee” from the same government domains.

  24. As already mentioned, lexically toneless words are not very frequent in Wan, so special examples usually need to be constructed to explore the interaction of tone and syntax more efficiently.

  25. If neither verb selected for an oblique argument, the spatial PP would be interpreted as an adjunct. I do not discuss PP adjuncts in this study, but they are licensed in Wan by a simple adjustment to the functional annotations in (77), allowing the PP to function as an adjunct rather than an oblique argument (Nikitina 2008a).

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Acknowledgements

I am sincerely grateful to the editors and reviewers whose feedback on earlier versions has helped me tremendously to improve the paper. I am also grateful to Will Leben for his constructive criticism of the earlier versions of the tonal analysis, to audiences at ACAL 47 at UC Berkeley and at the research seminar at LLACAN, and to all my language consultants. Special thanks go to Bomisso Tchémon Christophe Kingston. No one but me is to blame for any remaining errors and misinterpretations. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 758232). The funding was used at the final stages of the project to collect additional data.

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Nikitina, T. Verb phrase external arguments in Mande. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 37, 693–734 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-018-9417-0

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Keywords

  • PP arguments
  • Extraposition
  • Tone
  • Prosodic phrasing
  • SOVX word order
  • Syntactic constituency
  • Mande languages
  • Lexical-Functional Grammar