Architecture of the Palau Verbal Complex

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics
Title Architecture of the Palau Verbal Complex
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
This dissertation addresses two fundamental, difficult questions in linguistic theory.
The morphological question involves the formal status of verbs as “words,”
while the syntactic question is concerned with how verb phrases are constructed.
Both questions arise in frameworks, including Distributed Morphology and recent
versions of Minimalism, in which the material that constitutes a verb is distributed
over multiple syntactic heads. To address these questions, I develop a theory
of the verbal complex of Palauan, an Austronesian language spoken by approximately
15,000 people in the Republic of Palau and elsewhere. The data covers new
empirical domains and is drawn both from my original fieldwork and from sources
of naturally occurring data.
I begin by exploring the nature of grammatical relations in Palauan (subjects,
direct objects, and possessors), concluding that they are instantiated by the operation
Agree. The morphosyntax of accusative DPs also suggests that licensing heads
that trigger Agree may have other features bundled with them, like tense, aspect, or
mood. Next, Palauan phrasal idioms reveal a locality restriction on their subparts
for which I propose a constraint that refers to linearized strings. If the analysis is
correct, Palauan idioms provide a new type of evidence for a post-syntactic component
of the grammar. Then, from one morphologically uniform class of intransitive
verbs and adjectives, I conclude that there are three distinct syntactic subclasses —
passive verbs, unaccusative verbs, and stative adjectives. The result bears on the nature
of the relations between functional heads and their complements, which I take
to be something like feature-unification (rather than category-selection). Finally,
the internal structure of resultative adjective phrases suggests that Palauan words
are derived (at least partially) syntactically, where a syntactic head can merge with
a phrasal XP but form a morphophonological word with just a proper subpart of
that XP.
The overall picture that emerges is that while the (morpho)syntax of Palauan
appears initially baroque, it is not tremendously different from that of other languages.
Still, its sometimes unusual properties can help shed light on long-standing
questions about similar phenomena in better-studied languages.

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