The next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Emily Elfner (York University) on Friday, November 20th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Evaluating evidence for recursive prosodic structure”.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 year).

Abstract: In much recent work on the syntax-prosody interface, the question of whether recursion is present in prosodic structure has played a key role (for example, Wagner 2005, 2010; Selkirk 2009, 2011, among others). In particular, in theories of the syntax-prosody interface such as Match Theory (Selkirk 2009, 2011), which derive prosodic constituents directly from syntactic structure, prosodic structure is predicted to show by default a degree of recursion that arguably is comparable with the depth of the nested hierarchical structure found in syntax.

One major question which has surfaced is the extent to which the level of recursive prosodic structure predicted by syntactic structure is universal. For example, some languages have been argued to show overt phonological and phonetic reflexes of recursion, thus providing apparent empirical support for the recursive structures predicted by syntactic structure in a number of languages, such as Irish (Elfner 2012, 2015), Basque (Elordieta 2015), and Swedish (Myrberg 2013). However, other languages may not show such overt evidence, as it has long been assumed that the ways that languages mark prosodic phrase edges and heads is language-specific; for example, some of the predicted prosodic phrases may be marked overtly only on one edge (left or right), or not at all. Conversely, we cannot always assume that overt evidence of a prosodic boundary indicates the presence of a syntactic boundary.

Therefore, the question remains: if there is no overt evidence of the edges of certain prosodic constituents in a particular language, to what extent can we posit their existence based on theoretical predictions relating to hierarchical structure and syntax-prosody mapping alone? In this talk, I will explore this question in relation to a case study on the prosodic structure of Irish, which provides an apparent conflict between prosodic cues which provide evidence for hierarchal syntactic structure and domain juncture (Elfner 2012, 2016).