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Colloquium: Ksenia Ershova

January 27, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Speaker: Ksenia Ershova (MIT)

Title: The nuanced typology of syntactic ergativity: Insights from parasitic gaps in Samoan and West Circassian


Syntactic ergativity is broadly defined as the sensitivity of syntactic rules to the distinction between subjects of transitive verbs (= ergative) on the one hand and objects of transitive verbs and subjects of intransitive verbs (= absolutive) on the other hand. The most commonly discussed syntactic ergativity effect – the inaccessibility of the ergative agent for wh-movement – is widely associated with high absolutive syntax, wherein the absolutive case-marked nominal moves to a position above the ergative agent and intervenes for ergative extraction. While deriving the ban on ergative movement from a single parameter (all high absolutive languages disallow ergative extraction), these accounts rely on stipulations that are not extendable beyond the small set of languages they aim to describe. In this talk, I present an alternative account of the interaction between high absolutive syntax and ergative extraction which, while creating a broader predictive space for how high absolutive languages are expected to behave, utilizes a minimal syntactic toolkit that is widely applicable outside of the realm of ergativity: ergative extraction is blocked if the absolutive argument moves to the outer specifier of the same maximal projection which hosts the ergative agent. The account relies on basic notions of structural domains and locality and correctly predicts a more nuanced typology of syntactically ergative languages: some languages display high absolutive syntax, but do not block ergative extraction, while in others, absolutive raising creates an intervention effect. I support the analysis with evidence from an unusual diagnostic – parasitic gaps – in two syntactically ergative languages: Samoan and West Circassian.


January 27, 2023
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


18 Seminary Place, Room 108