Will Oxford will present, “Contrastive, obligatory, and spurious voice” on Friday, April 21st, 2023 at 3:30pm as part of the Linguistics colloquium series. The presentation will be both in-person in S211 in the ILC and available through Zoom. Abstract can be found below. All are welcome!
Algonquian languages have a system of direct-inverse marking that is conditioned by a person hierarchy: 1/2 > 3 > 3′ > 3″ (where 3′ and 3″ represent obviative and “further obviative” third persons). Since a multi-level hierarchy such as this cannot be captured by a single feature, the apparent need to account for such hierarchies has led to some creative proposals about what syntax can do. I will argue that the Algonquian person hierarchy is in fact an illusion created by the use of marked voice morphology under three different conditions, which I refer to as “contrastive voice”, “obligatory voice”, and “spurious voice”. Each condition is responsible for one of the three rankings that make up the apparent hierarchy: the 3′ > 3″ ranking reflects contrastive voice, the 3 > 3′ ranking reflects obligatory voice, and the 1/2 > 3 ranking reflects spurious voice. I will show how this dissolution of the hierarchy improves our understanding of the data and explore its implications for formal models of voice and agreement.
Kathryn Davidson (Harvard) will present “What is the value of symbolic abstraction?” on Friday, October 14, 2022 at 3:30pm as part of the Linguistics colloquium series. The presentation will be both in-person and available through Zoom. The abstract can be found below. All are welcome!
What is the value of symbolic abstraction?
Although language is often taken to be a paradigmatic case of the use of arbitrary symbols to communicate ideas, it is also clear that linguistic interactions in both signed and spoken languages frequently incorporate elements of iconic depiction. How exactly these two aspects of language interact, and what, if anything, sets apart and motivates the development of symbolic vs. iconic language, is an area of active research on spoken and signed languages and gesture studies. I will briefly overview various approaches to formally modeling the contributions of iconic and symbolic meaning, and make the case that while both are pervasive in natural languages, only symbolic abstraction supports reasoning over alternatives, necessary for many domains in compositional semantics including negation and questions. In contrast to symbolic descriptions, iconic depictions must be reanalyzed as symbolic in order to participate in alternative building structures, providing a clearer motivation for both depictive and descriptive aspects of language, based on their separate compositional capacities.