Sometimes Syntax is Syntax. Sometimes Syntax is Phonology
Thursday, February 14, 2008, 3:30-5:00pm
In recent years, the field of syntax has seen a shift toward explorations and explanations of syntactic phenomena cast in terms of the interfacing sub-systems of grammar; namely, the phonological and semantic components. This modus operandi necessitates a broader knowledge base than was previously thought necessary. It also entails that the more rigorous analyses in this vein will likely come from those who study languages holistically. Yet curiously enough, holism is far from being the battle cry in today’s interface-driven syntactic frameworks. In this talk, I advance an argument for linguistic holism on the basis of two case studies drawn from the Nupe language, a Benue Congo language spoken in south central Nigeria.
The first case study deals with the language’s restriction on extraction from perfect clauses. The second case study is similar in that it too deals with an extraction restriction. In this case, the restriction involves the prohibition of embedded subject extraction across a complementizer – the so-called Comp-trace effect. Although the phenomena investigated in both case studies have been traditionally referred to as “syntactic” in both the Nupe literature and in the generative literature more broadly, I show that the former is truly syntactic in the narrow sense, while the latter is more phonological in nature. In this respect, then, it is difficult to know in advance of analysis whether a purported syntactic phenomenon is truly syntactic after all. Thus, in light of situations like these, holistic approaches to language take on an elevated level of importance. The talk also addresses a number of theoretical issues raised by the core empirical problems of each case study, including, but not limited to, the syntax-phonology interface.