May 4: Scott AnderBois

The Semantics and Philosophy of Language Workshop is pleased to welcome Scott AnderBois (Connecticut) for the fourth talk of the quarter.

DATE: May 4, 2012
TIME: 11:30-1:20pm
PLACE: Cobb 107

‘Alternative unconditionals in Yucatec Maya’

Unconditionals are sentences which intuitively serve to indicate that a proposition will hold regardless of how some other issue is resolved. Despite their connections to well-studied constructions like conditionals, questions, free relatives, and subjunctive mood, they are relatively understudied in English and even more so cross-linguistically. Focusing on alternative unconditionals like (1), I propose an analysis where unconditionality arises from the collision of two conflicting properties: (i)unconditional antecedents (underlined) are expressions whose only at-issue contribution to discourse is to evoke alternatives (i.e. they are purely inquisitive); (ii) topics are inherently `anti-inquisitive’ environments.

(1) xíiimbal-nak wáa áalkab-nak Maribel-e’ k-u k’uchul tu yora’ij
walk-SUBJ or run-SUBJ Maribel-TOPIC IMPERF-3S arrive on time
`Whether Maribel walks or runs, she will arrive on time.’

While property (i) is reflected directly in English by the interrogative form of unconditional antecedent (as argued by Rawlins (2008)), I argue that it nonetheless holds of YM as well. Property (ii), on the other hand, is more readily apparent in YM since the topic morpheme -e’ occurs in a wide variety of superficially unrelated constructions. Despite the absence of a robust topic construction in English, I argue that we can nonetheless provide independent evidence for this property in English based on two observations about if-conditionals.