Thursday 24 March – Enoch Aboh

Speaker: Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam)
Title: Back to D
Date: Thursday 24 March
Venue: Van Eyckhof 2/003
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

In this paper, I return to a debate I had at a distance with Zeljko Bošković in the years 2008-2011 when based on independent empirical facts we made similar observations about the universality of the category D, but drew opposite conclusions. In a series of studies investigating the universality of D, Bošković (2008, 2009) argues that the absence/presence of articles in languages correlates with very specific clausal properties of which some are summarized under table 1.

Properties Languages without article Languages with article
Left-branch extraction yes no
Adjunct extraction yes no
Scrambling (e.g., long distance scrambling from finite clause) yes no
Multiple wh-fronting yes no
Clitic doubling no yes
Transitive nominals with two genitives no yes
Island effect in head-initial relatives yes no
Majority reading of MOST no yes
Negative raising no yes

Table 1: The DP/NP parameter (adapted from Bošković 2008)
Though these properties may turn out to be areal, they indicate that the presence/absence of articles in a language depends on clausal properties rather than a parameter that regulates the pronunciation of the category D. In maintaining the traditional view that D is a primitive category, Bošković concluded that languages which lack T also lack D.

While this correlation might hold, the idea that D is a primitive syntactic category subject to tense parameter is not unproblematic, though. Outside Romance and Germanic, the category is notoriously fuzzy. Many languages of the world do not have (in)definite articles of the Indo-European type, but encode definiteness by other syntactic devices that are not expressions of D (e.g., pre- vs. post-verbal position, classifiers, modifiers, see Cheng & Sybesma 1999, Aboh 2004). In Kwa, bare nouns freely occur in argument and non-argument positions, where they can be interpreted as (in)definite or generic depending on context. These ‘radical’ bare noun languages therefore seem not to require D, unlike modern Germanic and Romance. In this regard, it is interesting to note that while most modern Romance and Germanic languages (e.g., French, English) have (in)definite articles, these were not present in the relevant source languages (e.g., Latin) or at earlier stages of their development (e.g., Old English). Accordingly, D is a derivative category in these languages. Given this state of affairs, it is perfectly legitimate to ask:
a. What conceptual motivation do we have for postulating the category D as a syntactic category (independent of clausal properties)?
b. Why do (in)definite articles develop in some languages but not in others?

In addressing these questions, I argue that there is no category D in the strict sense, but C, which may take the form of so-called articles when it heads a nominal predicate. More explicitly, D is a mere label used to refer to a nominal C(omplementizer). Under this view, we can reduce the number of phases to just two (i.e, C, p), where ‘little p’ stands for predicates in general.

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