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Syntax Interface Lectures Utrecht


17 December 2018
16:00 - 17:00
Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Ravensteynzaal)

Andrés Saab (CONICET, Buenos Aires)

The syntax and semantics of se constructions in Rioplatense Spanish

This talk aims to provide an integral theory of se constructions in (Rioplatense) Spanish. Taking a particular set of se constructions, mainly those involving argument reduction effects as a case study (reflexives, passive and impersonal se, etc.), I show that se is a purely morphological expletive introduced at PF whenever certain Merge “failures” obtains at syntax. Put differently, se constructions involve syntactic environments where a DP argument (the external one) is absent in the syntax. Case-Agree connections in those situations are entirely resolved on the basis of inflectional properties of phase heads which set what I call flexible Case domains. In turn, θ-relations are also resolved in the syntax but now on the basis of inflectional properties of argument DPs (i.e., activity) and certain locality conditions. The theory has several architectural consequences for the syntax-semantic interface. Here are two crucial ones:

(a) θ-roles are syntactic primitives that can be assigned in a long-distance fashion up to argument activity (aka syntactic visibility) plus some locality conditions,

(b) at LF, θ-roles are semantically realized as functions from entities to event predicates (i.e., <e, <s,t>>) on K(ase) heads. This new approach implies a revival of the Visibility Condition (Chomsky 1986) motivated now on purely model-theoretical considerations at LF. On this theory, structural K is conceived of an argument introducer mediating between predicates (pure event properties) and arguments, whose particular semantics is syntactically determined; i.e., via allosemy.

As a bonus track I show how this theory straightforwardly accounts for inherent se constructions (e.g., quejarse ‘to complain’) that have been resistant to any principled explanation in previous literature. Two defining properties of inherent se are: (i) intransitivity (i.e., there are no transitive counterparts for a given inherent se sentence; cf., *Juan quejó a Pedro, Lit: ‘Juan complained Pedro’), and (ii) se (or its agreeing variants) is mandatory (cf., *Juan quejó Lit: ‘Juan complained’. As I’ll demonstrate, both properties follow with further ado from the formal system I defend.