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Colloquium: Claire Halpert

November 19, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Revisiting nominal licensing in Zulu
Claire Halpert


The questions of whether and how nominals are syntactically licensed in Bantu languages have been a matter of recent active debate (e.g. Diercks 2012; Halpert 2015, 2019; van der Wal 2015; Sheehan and van der Wal 2018; Carstens and Mletshe 2016; Pietraszko 2020). While a number of languages and phenomena throughout the Bantu family seem to lack evidence of the typical ‘signature’ of case-licensing (Diercks 2012), others show more straightforward case patterns (van der Wal 2015). Sheehan and van der Wal (2018) suggest the term Vergnaud Licensing to refer to nominals’ requirements for particular syntactic configurations and show that Bantu languages show differing behavior on a variety of Vergnaud Licensing metrics. In my own work, I’ve argued that the Bantu language Zulu has structural case effects that are largely obscured (1) by the prevalence extremely local case licensers (along the lines of lexical case assigners in Baker 2015) and (2) the location of structural case-assigning heads low in the clause. In particular, I argued that all nominals marked with the so-called augment morpheme were locally licensed and did not require low structural case. In this talk, I will complicate this view by investigating some environments that show hallmarks of structural case alternations/Vergnaud licensing, even for augmented nominals: passives (Halpert and Zeller 2016, Halpert to appear), uncontrolled infinitives (Halpert to appear) and possession. In passives and infinitives, external arguments become optional and are morphologically marked when they appear. I demonstrate that these marked overt external arguments are in fact structurally licensed in Spec,vP. In possessor raising, a morphologically marked postnominal possessor alternates with an unmarked prenominal possessor that can be targeted by A- and A-bar processes in the main clause.  I propose that in all of these environments, a morphologically overt, acategorial Linker head is involved in licensing (cf. Baker and Collins 2006, Schneider-Zioga 2015, Pietraszko 2019).  The requirement of this type of special licensing exactly in environments analogous to case-deprived environments in more familiar case-licensing languages in turn suggests that external arguments are structurally licensed the active, finite environments–even with the augment. As we look closely at more environments in a Bantu language like Zulu, the picture of nominal distribution and licensing becomes richer and more complex.



Meeting Information
This event will be hosted over Zoom. For a link, please contact the organizers:
Indira Das (indira.das [at]
Tatevik Yolyan (tatevik.yolyan [at]
Jiaxing Yu (jiaxing.j.yu [at]


November 19, 2021
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm