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Voice stacking in Icelandic causatives  (joint work with Einar Freyr Sigurðsson)

Date: Friday March 13, 20202

Time: 11:30 am to 1:00 pm

Location: ABB 166

Guest Speaker: Dr. Jim Wood

Bio: Jim Wood received his Ph.D. from New York University in 2012. His research revolves around issues of syntactic theory and its interactions with semantics and morphology, with a special empirical focus on Icelandic and dialect variation in English. His work on Icelandic covers a wide range of phenomena, much of which revolves around issues of case marking and verb phrase structure (causatives, passives, middles, argument structure, dative-nominative constructions), but also includes the structure of noun phrases, interpretation of pronouns, and the syntax of clitics. In 2012, he came to Yale and took on a leading role in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, which focuses on “syntactic microvariation” in English—tiny differences between dialects of English. In this area, he has worked and published on the syntax of numerous constructions, and he has been developing new ways of investigating, mapping, and quantitatively analyzing syntactic dialect variation.  Since 2013, he has been the Associate Editor of the Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics, and his research has been published in a wide range of journals, including Linguistic Inquiry, Natural Language & Linguistic Theory, Syntax, Journal of Linguistics, Linguistic Variation, American Speech, Glossa, and Lingua, among others. He is an ongoing member of the Linguistic Society of America, the American Dialect Society, and Íslenska málfræðifélagið (the Icelandic Linguistic Society).

Abstract: Causative constructions cross-linguistically raise numerous puzzles for our understanding of syntax and its interfaces with semantics and morphology. Adopting the assumption that external arguments are introduced by a Voice head (Kratzer 1996), I claim that certain Icelandic causative constructions involve Voice stacking: two Voice heads on top of one verb phrase. I propose that a number of puzzling properties of Icelandic causative constructions follow from the fact that when there are two Voice heads, they cannot both get the same interpretation. They cannot, for example, both introduce agents. I start by discussing agent-splitting, where the agent is split into two roles, an initiator and a doer, and show how this accounts for the fact that the causee lacks certain properties of canonical agents. I then discuss two ways in which the structure interacts with long-distance reflexives: (i) verbs that normally cannot be embedded are allowed with reflexives, and (ii) a pleonastic use of the causative verb becomes available in imperatives with oblique subjects. I propose that these facts follow from the syntax of long-distance reflexives (which involves a “point-of-view” operator), which provides a way to interpret the Voice stacking structure that is not independently available. Finally, Voice-stacking constructions allow idiomatic interpretations, but only when the lower Voice head is expletive (gets no interpretation), a fact that entails that the boundary for idiomatic interpretations is determined at least in part by the interpretation of a structure rather than the structure itself. The analysis supports the view that the syntax of causatives is derived from the interaction of more basic primitives and mechanisms, and is not encoded in the grammar with a dedicated functional head with a specific, predetermined meaning.  A paper related to the talk is available here: