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Phrasal standards, quantificational standard markers: Evidence from Navajo

  • Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (University of Gothenburg)
Thursday 28 March 2019
P.N. van Eyckhof 4
P.N. van Eyckhof 4
2311 BV Leiden


Two analyses of comparatives have been proposed and, more recently, explored from a crosslinguistic perspective. In individual comparison the comparative morpheme takes an individual-type standard as argument, while in degree comparison the comparative morpheme composes with a degree or interval-type standard. These semantic analyses are typically tied to particular syntactic treatments (e.g. Bhatt and Takahashi 2011): whereas the standard is a reduced clause in cases of degree comparison, the standard consists of only a DP on analyses that assume individual comparison.

In this talk, I present novel evidence from Navajo (Dene/Athabaskan) to argue that while standards are syntactically phrasal (contra Bogal-Allbritten 2013, 2016), Navajo must nevertheless make use of (only) a degree comparison strategy. This result is unexpected on views in which a phrasal syntax implies individual comparison, and is surprising given Kennedy’s (2007) reasoning that any language with degree comparison should also have individual comparison.

The key data comes from the expression of superlative meaning in Navajo in which an existential quantifier serves as the standard of comparison. This superlative strategy has not been previously discussed from a formal semantic perspective and is crosslinguistically exceedingly rare (Coppock, Bogal-Allbritten, and Nouri-Hosseini, in prep.). Taking the superlative data as my starting point, I present a treatment of Navajo comparative constructions that is equipped to handle the apparent conflict between their syntactic and semantic analysis, and locate the analysis of Navajo within a broader crosslinguistic typology.

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