SLaLS talk: April 5, 2013, Dr. Robert Henderson

There will be a SLaLS talk on April 5 from 3-4:30pm in 415 St. Patrick’s. Dr. Robert Henderson of McGill University will  give his talk entitled “How to build a gradable predicate in Mayan”


This talk investigates an enigmatic root class in Mayan languages, called positional in the descriptive literature, and argues that these roots should receive a scalar semantics. Example (1) presents some instances of positional roots in Kaqchikel, while (2) shows a few of their canonical derivations. Note that they can be derived into stems of a variety of syntactic categories.

(1) POSITIONALS                          (2) DERIVED POSITIONALS

a. √ch’eq ‘wet’                                    a. ri ch’eq-ech’ïk che’ ‘the very wet tree’

b. √sët ‘circular’                                 b. Set-ël. ‘It’s circular.’

c. √köt ‘twisted’                                 c. X-kot-e’. ‘It twisted.’

d. √jot ‘elevated’                                 d. Xu-jot-ob’a. ‘He elevated it.’

Core Proposal: Positional roots denote measure functions of type (e, d) (from individuals to degrees on a scale)

After mustering distributional arguments for a degree-based account of positional roots, I then expand the analysis along three routes. First, I show how a series of positional-specific morphological puzzles can be solved when positional derivations (like those above) are reanalyzed as degree morphology. Second, given the cross-categorial distribution of scalar items, I show how the analysis lets us understand why positionals are so category neutral: They lexicalize the scalar core underlying gradable predicates across categories. Finally, I consider how to integrate derived positionals into clause-level degree constructions like the comparative. All along the way there will be tension between giving positionals a scalar semantics and preventing them from collapsing on bona fide root adjectives, which pattern differently in a variety of ways. This will open up a way to think about different sources of gradability in natural language.

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