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On the Offensive

By Karen Stollznow

On the Offensive " This book sheds light on the derogatory phrases, insults, slurs, stereotypes, tropes and more that make up linguistic discrimination. Each chapter addresses a different area of prejudice: race and ethnicity; gender identity; sexuality; religion; health and disability; physical appearance; and age."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Mixing of Syntactic Properties and Language Change Add Dissertation
Author: Tatiana Nikitina Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Stanford University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2008
Linguistic Subfield(s): Historical Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Syntax; Typology;
Subject Language(s): Italian
Director(s): Joan Bresnan

Abstract: Constructions with mixed syntactic properties combine the distribution of
one category with the internal structure of another; e.g., constructions
with nominalizations often have a nominal distribution but partly verbal
internal structure. Based on evidence from constructions that combine
nominal and verbal properties, this dissertation argues for a particular
account of category mixing, which relies on the distinction between the
lexical properties of the construction's head (most importantly, the set of
abstract grammatical functions it subcategorizes for, such as subject,
object, or oblique) and language-specific phrase structure constraints that
determine whether and how these lexical properties can be instantiated
(e.g., whether an object function can be expressed within a noun phrase).
The flexibility of the account is illustrated by two case studies in
nominalization in Italian and in Wan (Mande), each dealing with its own
kind of 'unusual' mixed category that is problematic for the previously
proposed approaches to category mixing.

The behavior of nominalized infinitives in Italian points to a discrepancy
between the selection of an object function (nominalizations of transitive
verbs must retain the verb's object) and the range of available syntactic
configurations (object functions cannot be expressed in a construction with
a nominal head). This discrepancy results in a surprising pattern of
ineffability of arguments corresponding to the verb's objects: verbs that
cannot occur without an object cannot be nominalized. Theories that do not
treat lexical properties and syntactic configuration as two dissociated
levels of structure have no way of accounting for the lack of a syntactic
expression for an obligatory argument.

The unique features of nominalization in Wan are due to the unusual syntax
of PPs: instead of being realized NP- and VP-internally, PPs must appear at
the level of IP and do not form a syntactic constituent with the nominal or
the verbal head that selects for them. While regular nouns never select for
oblique functions and cannot be associated with PPs, nominalizations can
retain the oblique function of their base verb. In this sense, deverbal
nouns share some syntactic properties with verbs. At the same time, due to
the non-local realization of oblique arguments, the mixed syntax of
deverbal nouns is not captured by accounts that project argument structure
directly into syntax, without the mediating level of grammatical function
assignment. Similarly, this pattern of mixing cannot be explained by
accounts that rely on mixed syntactic projections as the source of category

In addition to discussing the consequences of such unusual patterns of
category mixing for syntactic theory, the study extends the investigation
of category mixing beyond synchronic analysis proper. Properties of mixed
categories are argued to depend in a predictable way on their historical
source, and the proposed synchronic account is supported by the contrast in
the development of two types of constructions combining verbal and nominal
properties: mixed nominalizations (illustrated with Middle English, Basque,
and Old Church Slavonic) and mixed nonfinite forms of the verb (illustrated
with Vedic infinitives, Celtic verbal nouns, and the Slavic supine). More
broadly, the analysis of the diachronic development of the two types of
mixed categories illustrates how historical evidence can be used to justify
a synchronic account, suggesting that the study of formal syntax should be
integrated with the study of language change.