LINGUIST List 15.841

Thu Mar 11 2004

Diss: Semantics/Syntax: Salem: 'Bare Nominals...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <takolinguistlist.org>


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  1. muradksalem, Bare Nominals, Focus Structure, and Reference in Germanic...

Message 1: Bare Nominals, Focus Structure, and Reference in Germanic...

Date: Thu, 11 Mar 2004 02:47:31 -0500 (EST)
From: muradksalem <muradksalemyahoo.com>
Subject: Bare Nominals, Focus Structure, and Reference in Germanic...

Institution: Michigan State University
Program: Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and
African Languages
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: Murad Salem 

Dissertation Title: Bare Nominals, Focus Structure, and Reference in
Germanic, Romance and Semitic

Linguistic Field: Semantics, Syntax 

Subject Language: Arabic, South Levantine Spoken (code: AJP), 
English (code: ENG), Italian (code: ITN), Spanish (code: SPN)

Dissertation Director 1: Alan Munn

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis is concerned with providing a unified approach to bare
nominals crosslinguistically by drawing on the properties of focus
structure and word order facts. It essentially seeks to assimilate the
seemingly disparate behavior of bare nominals in Palestinian Arabic
(PA) and Spanish, on the one hand, and English, on the other, by
conceiving of such behavior as stemming from deeper distinctions
between these two language groups in the properties of focus and the
differences in word order. The picture that emerges is highly
restrictive and thus desirably minimizes crosslinguistic variation
among these languages.

The proposed analysis argues in the first place that there is no
asymmetry in the distribution of bare nominals in PA or Spanish in
terms of structural positions. Relying on the behavior of
determinerless nominals in the Semitic Construct State, I advance an
analysis of bare nominals in the general case that views these
nominals as being focalized, or non-topical. Since bare nominals in
both PA and Spanish are subject only to an existential interpretation,
it seems natural to predict that this analysis would carry over to
existential bare nominals in English. This should in fact be the null
hypothesis. The present dissertation argues for the accuracy of this
prediction.

Once I have established that existential bare nominals are always
focused, I set out to explain the differences observed to hold between
PA and Spanish, on the one hand, and English, on the other, in the
distribution of bare nominals as emanating from deeper distinctions
between these two language groups in the properties of focus and word
order facts. Word order in English is generally rigid, which rules out
the possibility of (de)focalizing constituents through movement. This
language, therefore, has recourse to marked focus, i.e.
non-contrastively focusing a sentence-internal constituent. By
contrast, PA and Spanish enjoy a flexible word order system which
makes prosodic movement an option at their disposal; marked focus is
accordingly precluded. A bare nominal in PA and Spanish cannot be
non-contrastively focused in situ, but would have to be placed in the
lowest position in the syntactic tree in terms of c-command, where
Nuclear Stress is assigned in these two languages. These basic
differences between English, on the one hand, and PA and Spanish, on
the other, translate into differences in the distribution of bare
nominals.

The proposed analysis also seeks to explain why English expresses
genericity via bare nominals whereas PA and Spanish lack that
option. I argue that this difference can be pursued along two
tacks. First, I make the assumption that generic operators in PA and
Spanish cannot bind nominals in a DP with a null or empty head,
whereas English generic operators can. Second, due to their focal
status, bare nominals in PA and Spanish, just like their English
counterparts, cannot be mapped into a restrictive clause of a generic
operator. These nominals are always mapped into the nuclear scope. It
is then predicted that existential bare nominals in PA and Spanish are
never bound by generic operators and these languages make use of the
definite article to express genericity.
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