Thu 13 June – Stéphane Térosier

Speaker: Stéphane Térosier (LUCL)
Title: Common ground management and its morphosyntactic reflexes in Martinican Creole wh-questions
Date: Thu 13 June
Location: Lipsius 1.33
Zoom: Link / Meeting ID: 661 6808 0486 / Passcode: 3$i2CutS
Time: 16:15 – 17:30

This talk focuses on two types of wh-questions found in Martinican Creole, as illustrated by the minimal pair in (1),

(1) a. Kisa     Jan        di    ’w?
what    John      say   2sg
‘What did John tell you?’

b. Kisa     Jan        di     ’w    la?
what    John      say   2sg  la
‘What did John tell you (given our shared knowledge that John told you something)?’

As reflected by these examples, the differences between these two types of wh-questions are both superficial and pragmatic. Superficially, what sets the two types of wh-questions apart is the presence/absence of la in sentence-final position. Pragmatically, la-marked wh-questions (1b) possess two distinctive properties: (i) they may not be uttered out of the blue, and (ii) they do not tolerate negative answers. This leads me to propose that la plays a crucial role in common ground management insofar as it is used by the speaker to refer to a previously established QUD. Based on distributional evidence, I further claim that la is merged in Wiltschko’s (2021) GroundP layer and sits above CP. This falls in line with the observation that there is no syntactic difference between la-marked wh-questions and their non-la-marked counterparts.

Interestingly, la is also found in the nominal domain, where it has been analyzed as a definite determiner (Bernabé 1983; Déprez 2007; Gadelii 2007; Déprez 2007; Zribi-Hertz & Jean-Louis 2014; Térosier 2021). Its most likely source is the French postnominal deictic reinforcer ‘there’. Its extension to the clausal domain suggests that speakers of Gbe languages played a crucial role in the emergence of Martinican Creole. For instance, Fongbe, one of these Gbe languages, possesses a multifunctional marker, ɔ́, which is found in both the nominal and clausal domain (Lefebvre 1992, 1998). I thus argue that the initial reanalysis of French là as a definite determiner set the way for its later extension to the clausal domain, as evidenced in la-marked wh-questions.

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