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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Semantics-Pragmatics Interface and Island Constraints in Chinese Add Dissertation
Author: Dawei Ji Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University at Buffalo, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2016
Linguistic Subfield(s): Semantics; Syntax;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Director(s): Jean-Pierre Koenig
Rui Chaves
Robert Van Valin
Matthew Dryer

Abstract: This thesis is about strong island effects and intervention effects. Strong island effects are contexts where operator-variable dependencies cannot be established. The paradigmatic cases of strong island violations in Chinese occur in why-questions. This thesis explores a basic contrast: why-questions fail to be interpreted in strong island contexts, as opposed to other wh-questions. This contrast is illustrated in (1a) and (1b):


a. #Ni xiang mai [ta weishenme xie] de shu?
You buy he why write REL book
#‘Whyi do you want to buy the book [that he wrote ti]?’
b. Ni xiang mai [ta yinwei shenme xie] de shu?
You buy he because.of what write REL book
#‘What is the reasoni such that you want to buy the book that he
wrote for that reasoni?’

The main questions that my account of strong islands addresses are the following:
- Is it true that only why-questions induce strong island violations, while others don’t?
- If Chinese strong island violations are indeed tied to why-questions, what is special about this question type that leads to strong island violations?
- What is the nature of strong island violations in why-questions? Are they syntactic, semantic, pragmatic or a combination?

This thesis develops a semantic account for strong islands, and the core idea can be summarized as follows. What sets apart the reason adverb why from other wh-interrogative phrases is that why is ontologically different. Why modifies propositions, relating a proposition to a set of reasons, rather than corresponding to a part of the proposition. This proposition-level operation exhibits a main clause phenomenon, meaning that a why-question should only occur as a root clause (main clause). Based on this observation, I conclude that no why-questions may be embedded. In this view, the island-creating contexts cause interpretation problems simply because they are embedded clauses. There is nothing special about these island domains per se. Indeed, I provide evidence that a why-question cannot even embed as a complement clause. This theory predicts that if we can find another type of question that similarly modifies the proposition level, island effects should arise there, too. In this thesis, I find one such example in A-not-A questions. I argue that A-not-A questions are yes-no questions that relate a proposition to its truth values. As predicted, island effects occur in A-not-A questions.

Intervention effects arise when scope-taking elements linearly precede an interrogative phrase. This constraint resembles strong island violations, in that it also applies to why-questions and A-not-A questions, yet fails to apply to other wh-questions. In this thesis, I show that intervention exhibits variability: (i) monotone increasing quantifiers as well as non-monotonic quantifiers do not obey the intervention constraint; (ii) conversely, monotone decreasing quantifiers and focus-sensitive expressions are subject to the constraint. Based on the proposal that why-questions and A-not-A questions involve interrogative phrases that are proposition-level modifiers, my thesis proposes that scope-taking elements that take precedence over the interrogative phrases need to be topics. This proposal correctly predicts the variability in intervention effects.