Abstract: This talk explores the possibilities and limitations for using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure in the context of two verb-initial (V1) languages – Chol (Mayan) and Niuean (Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic) – that display similar patterns of word order variation (Coon 2010; Massam 2001). To date, no consensus has emerged among syntacticians about how to derive V1 order, but three approaches have received particularly widespread support: 1) right-branching specifier, 2) head movement and 3) VP-fronting. These three syntactic analyses make different predictions for prosodic structure, which can be cached out in Match Theory (Selkirk 2011). Match Theory posits violable constraints calling for isomorphism between syntactic and prosodic constituents. Here, I argue that the right-branching specifier account should be rejected in favor of a movement account based on the prosodic realization of different V1 structures in these languages. However, prosodic arguments alone cannot reliably distinguish between the two movement accounts under consideration (head movement and VP-fronting). Instead, I show how prosodic arguments can be used in conjunction with syntactic arguments to solve problems of syntactic structure and constituency, suggesting that V1 order is derived via head movement for both languages.
Post-doctoral fellow Lauren Clemens heads to Stony Brook University this week for a colloquium talk. The title of her talk is “The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing to diagnose different V1 derivations”, and the abstract is below.