15 November 2015

Laura McPherson gives department colloq

Laura McPherson (Dartmouth College) will give the department colloquium this Friday at 3:30 in N400. The title of her talk is “Constraint Interaction and the role of spell-out in Dogon tonosyntax,” and an abstract follows.

The Dogon languages of Mali share a unique system of replacive grammatical tone in the DP, where a word’s lexical tone is completely overwritten by tonal overlays in particular morphosyntactic positions. Unlike more typologically common systems of replacive tone, which tend to be triggered by morphemes or morphological features and are confined to a single word, Dogon overlays in the DP may span multiple words and are triggered by certain c-commanding syntactic categories or positions (hence, tonosyntax). In cases where a word is targeted by more than one potential trigger, the Dogon languages differ in their resolutions. I argue that these changes are inherently morphological in nature, despite occurring at the phrase-level rather than the word-level, and propose a construction-based model in which phrase-level morphological constructions encode idiosyncratic phonological changes sensitive to both syntactic category and syntactic structure. Constructional schemas are implemented in the grammar as constraints (construction constraints). The variation found in the Dogon language family is descriptively quite complicated, with no two languages working in exactly the same way, but in this talk, I show that the surface patterns falls out naturally in a maximum entropy (Goldwater and Johnson 2003, Hayes and Wilson 2008) model with weighted constraints, capable of capturing both within-language and between-language variation.

Additionally, data from the tonosyntax of possession and relative clauses provide evidence for the role of phases in determining morphophonological form. In particular, the application of tonal overlays is often, though (crucially) not obligatorily, blocked on material that has spelled out in a previous cycle. I argue that these effects provide evidence for transcyclic faithfulness constraints, which penalize alterations to the morphophonological form of spelled out material in later grammatical cycles. Like all constraints, these too are shown to be violable, with different Dogon languages displaying varying degrees of faithfulness to phasal targets. Thus, the Dogon data show that while spelled out material may be resistant to later phonological changes, it is not immune to it, as argued by proposals such as Lowenstamm (2010) or Newell and Piggott (2014).