Friday, January 18: Michelle Yuan (UChicago)

Please join us for this quarter’s first meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, January 18 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

On object shift, ergativity, and microvariation in Inuit
Michelle Yuan, UChicago

This talk investigates variation in the ergative system of the Inuit dialect continuum, for which the ergative pattern has been observed to be weaker in certain dialects than in others. I argue that the status of ergativity is systematically connected to another, seemingly independent point of variation: variation in object shift, i.e. whether the object raising to a structurally high position is a full DP or a pronoun (cf. Woolford 2017).

Evidence for this approach comes from novel fieldwork on the Eastern Canadian dialect group of Inuktitut—which, as I show, displays a number of previously unnoticed properties that make this correlation especially clear. From this, I present a novel analysis of ergativity across Inuit that reduces this correlation to variation in case competition for dependent ERG case assignment (Marantz 1991, Baker 2015). This captures the generalization that ergativity is intrinsically tied to the properties of the object, but more strikingly posits that ergativity need not directly reference any structural properties of the ERG case-bearing subject. More broadly, this talk offers a case study on how microvariation may be used as a lens into syntactic theory, and vice versa, by treating the Inuit languages as minimally-differing points along an otherwise gradient system.

Please also feel free to join us for any of our other talks this quarter.

Week 3 (1/25): Cherry Meyer (UChicago)
Week 4 (2/1): Elizabeth Pillion (UChicago)
Week 5 (2/8): Laura Horton (UChicago) + fieldworkers’ social at the Pub
Week 6 (2/15): Ella Karev (UChicago)
Week 8 (3/1): Sharese King (UChicago)
Week 9 (3/8): Maria Polinsky (Maryland)

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