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Syntax Interface Lectures Utrecht


19 March 2018

Jenneke van der Wal (Leiden University)

Topic-based flexible nominal licensing in Bantu


Two typical Bantu syntactic characteristics are subject inversion and symmetrical double objects, which are both problematic for current theories of Case and agreement. I propose that both can be captured if low functional heads (Appl and v), are flexible to license their complement or specifier, depending on topicality.

In subject inversion the logical subject appears postverbally and a preverbal locative/patient/instrument agrees with the verb (-zi- in 1):

(1)       Inzogá        nti-zi-nywá             abáana.
9.alcohol     neg-9sm-drink       2.children
‘It’s the children who do not drink alcohol.’        Kinyarwanda (Ngoboka 2016: 356)

In double object symmetry, either object of a ditransitive (recipient or theme) can be passivised and either can be object-marked (OM) on the verb  (2):

(2)    a.       U-mama   u-ba-nik-e                in-cwadi   (aba-ntwana).
1a-mama  1sm-2om-give-pfv   9-book     2-children
‘Mama gave them a book (the children).’

  1. U-mama     u-yi-nik-e                  aba-ntwana   (in-cwadi).
    1a-mama    1sm-9om-give-pfv   2-children     9-book
    ‘Mama gave the children it (a book).’                            Zulu (Adams 2010: 11)

The challenge is how T (for inversion) or v (for object marking) can agree with a lower argument (theme) across a higher one (EA or benefactive), given standard non-intervention locality restrictions on Agree. I explore the hypothesis that the intervening argument can be licensed by the head that introduces it (v or Appl), if it is non-topical. This allows the higher head to probe past it (assuming no defective intervention).