Nominal Arguments and Language Variation

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Nominal Arguments and Language Variation

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Title: Nominal Arguments and Language Variation
Author: Jiang, Li
Citation: Jiang, Li. 2012. Nominal Arguments and Language Variation. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation investigates nominal arguments in classifier languages (ClLs). There are two main goals. The first is to explore what is constant and what varies in the way ClLs form nominal arguments. The second goal is to understand the relationship between argument formation in classifier languages and argument formation more generally. Three classifier languages are the center of the discussion: Mandarin, a ClL without overt evidence of determiners, Yi, a head-final ClL which will be shown to have overt determiners, and Bengali, a ClL that has already been argued to have overt evidence of determiners. In addition to paying particular attention to these three ClLs, the discussion of nominal arguments also covers a wider range of ClLs and number marking languages (NMLs) from Romance, Germanic, and Slavic, as well as Hindi. In this dissertation we will argue for the following three points. First, numeral constructions (NCs) have identical syntax and semantics in ClLs and NMLs (possibly universally); specifically, we argue that NCs have a predicative interpretation and an argumental interpretation that arises via a choice function in the lexical entry of numerals. Secondly, we argue that language variation in the nominal domain is due primarily to two interrelated factors: what nouns denote (kinds or properties) and what low functional heads (i.e. number morphology (#) and classifiers) denote; we show how this variation in the nominal domain can be related to a more general macroparameter. Thirdly, we argue that determiners in ClLs are in fact expected, contrary to the standard view, but while they can combine with numeral-classifier phrases (ClPs) and numeral-less ClPs, they can never combine with bare nouns. The proposal is that bare nouns in ClLs are always argumental regardless of whether or not there are determiners. In the last chapter of this dissertation, we show that the developed analysis of nominal arguments and language variation yields an updated language typology of argument formation. With this proposed analysis of nominal arguments, we may be a few steps closer to a general theory of argument formation of wide cross-linguistic applicability.
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