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LINGUIST List 18.465

Mon Feb 12 2007

Diss: Ling Theory/Morphology/Socioling/Syntax: Parrott: 'Distribut...'

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        1.    Jeffrey Parrott, Distributed Morphological Mechanisms of Labovian Variation in Morphosyntax

Message 1: Distributed Morphological Mechanisms of Labovian Variation in Morphosyntax
Date: 09-Feb-2007
From: Jeffrey Parrott <parrottjgeorgetown.edu>
Subject: Distributed Morphological Mechanisms of Labovian Variation in Morphosyntax

Institution: Georgetown University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Jeffrey K. Parrott

Dissertation Title: Distributed Morphological Mechanisms of Labovian Variation in Morphosyntax

Dissertation URL: http://www.punksinscience.org/jeffrey/linguistics.htm

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories

Dissertation Director:
David Adger
Kleanthes Grohmann
Donna Lardiere
Natalie Schilling-Estes

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation takes a biolinguistic perspective on Labovian variation
in morphosyntax, an important phenomenon discovered by sociolinguists
(Chambers, Trudgill and Schilling-Estes 2002). The dissertation asks how an
account of the mechanisms underlying such variation can be incorporated
into a Minimalist theoretical model of the human language faculty (Chomsky
1995, et seq.).

To address this question, three cases of morphosyntactic variation in
English are investigated using an adapted combination of variationist and
theoretical methods. A primary empirical focus is on the moribund English
variety spoken in the community of Smith Island, Maryland, where both
phonological and morphosyntactic variants are currently undergoing a
process of rapid change as the insular dialect approaches death due to
ongoing population attrition (Schilling-Estes and Wolfram 1999). This
dissertation considers two morphosyntactic variants on Smith Island: weak
expletive 'it' (Parrott 2002) and leveled 'weren't' (Schilling-Estes 2000,
Mittelstaedt 2006). The dissertation also examines the puzzle of pronominal
case-form mismatches and pronoun-specific ordering asymmetries that occur
in English coordinate noun phrases (Emonds 1986).

This dissertation adopts a particular Minimalist theory of syntax (Chomsky
2000) augmented with the independently motivated and well-articulated
theory of Distributed Morphology (DM, Halle and Marantz 1993, Embick and
Noyer to appear). In this theoretical model, mechanisms of Labovian
variation can be located in the features of syntactic terminals and their
combination in the narrow syntax, as proposed by Adger and Smith (Adger and
Smith 2005, Adger 2006). Evidence from the three case studies supports the
additional hypothesis that mechanisms of variation are located in the
morphological component of the language faculty, at the interface between
the syntactic computation and the phonological component. Specifically, it
is claimed that variation can arise from the inventory and feature
structure of non-competing Vocabulary Items and their interactions with
ordered operations during the morphological computation to the
Phonetic-Form interface.

By showing how actual cases of morphosyntactic variation might receive a
plausible analysis within the Minimalist-theoretical framework of DM, an
overarching goal of the dissertation is to advocate further cooperative
research efforts toward bridging the gap between biolinguistic theory and
the empirical study of Labovian variation and change in progress.

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