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Negation in Finno-Ugric verb clusters. Evidence for post-syntactic operations

Martin Salzmann
University of Leipzig

Monday, February 4, 2019
10:30 a.m.–Noon
Humanities Center Conference Room D. Rush Rhees Library


In my talk I will discuss an intricate syntax-semantics mismatch in the verb cluster of the Finno-Ugric OV-languages Mari and Udmurt and explore its implications for the architecture of grammar. What is remarkable about these languages is that the negative auxiliary that is used to express sentential negation does not occur in the position where one would expect it to given its syntactic and semantic properties: Despite the fact that it has scope over the other verbs in the clause and governs the form of the dependent verb, it systematically occurs in second to last position in the verb cluster, a kind of displacement similar to displaced morphology in German varieties.

I will propose that the surface position of negation arises via a post-syntactic operation that lowers the negative auxiliary onto the structurally closest verb. This correctly predicts that the negative auxiliary forms an (almost) impenetrable unit with the dependent verb and that displacement does not have any semantic effects. In addition, Lowering straightforwardly captures the distribution of inflectional morphology (which attaches to the negation rather than the lexical verb) and the special clitic placement possibilities in negated sentences (unlike in positive sentences, clitics can occur in both cluster-peripheral as well as in cluster-internal position).

In the last part of my talk, I will compare the post-syntactic approach with a lexicalist alternative and conclude with a more general discussion about architectural challenges for linguistic theory.