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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

Switch-reference and big PRO

  • Matthew Tyler (University of Cambridge)
Thursday 14 October 2021
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Online | email organisers for link


Switch-reference (SR) refers to the phenomenon where an embedded clause carries special morphology to indicate whether its subject is coreferential with, or disjoint from, the subject of a matrix clause. The correct analysis of SR has been hotly debated in recent decades. A central division has been whether SR morphology is purely realizational, in that it simply computes whether the two subjects are the referentially the same or different, and inserts the appropriate marker (Watanabe 2000, Arregi & Hanink 2021, Clem 2021, a.o.), or whether the same-subject marker has a different syntax and semantics from the different-subject marker (Finer 1985, Baker & Camargo Souza 2020, a.o.).

I this talk, I wade into this debate with some novel data from Choctaw (Muskogean), concerning the interaction of SR morphology and agreement. The generalization is thus: a same-subject SR marker allows subject agreement to be suppressed, either in the embedded clause or in the matrix clause. I argue that we should interpret this generalization in terms of PRO-licensing: the same-subject SR morpheme has the ability to license obligatory-controlled PRO, which does not trigger agreement, while its different-subject counterpart cannot license PRO. Thus, at least in some languages, same-subject and different-subject SR markers make different syntactic-semantic contributions. Finally, I situate my analysis of Choctaw SR markers within the theoretical landscape of switch-reference cross-linguistically.

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