Presented at SALT 26 and as an invited talk at LENLS 2015

This paper develops a novel formal semantics for ideophones that can account for their meaning and compositional properties. The proposal extends recent work on iconicity in sign languages by Davidson (2015), whose demonstration-based framework provides a formal foundation for the semantics of ideophones that captures the difference between descriptive meaning and depictive meaning, the kind of meaning ideophones traffic in. After providing a demonstration-based account of the basic ideophone construction in the Mayan language Tseltal, the paper then shows how the demonstration-based account can be used to analyze pluractionality in the ideophone domain. In particular, through case studies on Tseltal and Upper Necaxa Totonac (Totonacan), I show that there are two previously unrecognized types of ideophonic pluractionality, and that their properties support the demonstration-based account. The first, which I call "demonstration-external pluractionality", involves a speaker using an ideophone to do a plurality of demonstrations that characterize a plurality of events. The second kind of ideophonic pluractionality, which I call a "demonstration-internal pluractionality", is much more similar to pluractionality in the verbal domain, and involves special morphology that derives ideophone stems that can only be used to demonstrate plural events. Finally, I use the contrast between these two types of pluractionality in the ideophone domain to clarify the line between the iconic and non-iconic aspects of the semantics of ideophones.


Accepted for publication at Natural Language & Linguistic Theory.

This paper presents cross-domain evidence that natural language makes use of two types of group entities that differ in terms of how they cohere. The first kind of groups, which I call swarms, are defined in terms of the spatial and temporal configuration of their members. The second, which are the canonical group entities, are defined in terms of non-spatiotemporal notions. To motivate this distinction, I present systematic differences in how these two types of group entities behave linguistically, both in the individual and event domains. These differences support two primary results. First, they are used as tests to isolate a new class of group nouns that denote swarm individuals, both in English, as well as other languages like Romanian. I then consider a crosslinguistically common type of pluractionality, called event-internal in the previous literature (Cusic 1981; Wood 2007), and show that its properties are best explained if the relevant verbs denote swarm events. By reducing event-internal pluractionality to a type of group reference also available for nouns, this work generates a new strong argument that pluractionality involves the same varieties of plural reference in the event domain that are seen in the individual domain.


Under review at Linguistic Inquiry. With Ryan Bennett and Boris Harizanov.

This paper is concerned with the description and analysis of a so-far unnoticed phenomenon in prosodic phonology, which we dub prosodic smothering. Prosodic smothering arises when the prosodic status of a clitic or affix varies with the presence or absence of some outer morpheme. Beyond motivating the existence of prosodic smothering by way of novel data from two genetically unrelated languages---Macedonian (Slavic, Macedonia) and Kaqchikel (Mayan, Guatemala)---we provide a unified account of the phenomenon based on a principled extension of the theory of prosodic subcategorization (Inkelas 1990, Peperkamp 1997, Chung 2003, Yu 2003, Paster 2006, Bye 2007, among others). In particular, while prosodic subcategorization is usually understood to involve only local, laterally adjacent elements, we show that prosodic smothering naturally emerges in a theory that allows prosodic subcategorization to implicate the vertical dimension---namely the prosodic category that dominates a morpheme. The resulting analysis not only makes sense of the novel data in Macedonian and Kaqchikel, it does so with purely local subcateogrization frames. This would not be possible in a theory that allowed only lateral subcategorization, and so this paper not only introduces prosodic smothering, but removes it as a potential counterexample to the claim that prosodic subcategorization is strictly local.


Sinn und Bedeutung 19. With Daniel Gutzmann.

This paper investigates a novel use of much in a construction that has not yet been recognized in the literature---Angry, much?---which we dub "expressive much". Our primary proposal is that expressive much is a shunting operator in the sense of McCready 2010, which targets a gradable predicate and adds a speaker's evaluative attitude about the degree to which an individual stands out on the relevant scale. In particular, we argue that it does so in a way that allows it to perform an "expressive question", which can be understood as a counterpart to a polar question, but in the expressive meaning dimension.


Accepted for publication at Language and Linguistics Compass

This article has two interlocked goals. The first is to highlight the strands of research that have played an important role in shaping our understanding of Mayan language semantics. The second is to acquaint non-Mayanists, and especially semanticists, with empirical phenomena that might prove especially interesting on typological or theoretical grounds. Given its particular dual mandate, this article cannot be an exhaustive survey of Mayan semantics, but it should instead be seen as introduction to those aspects of Mayan languages that have had an impact on the wider field of semantics, and that are current research hotspots. That said, I do want to acquaint the reader with a broad range of phenomena, and so the paper is organized like a grammar would be, first considering lexical categories, then phrase- and clause-level phenomena, and finally issues of discourse and informations structure.


Under review for an Routledge volume on the Mayan languages

Pluractionality is a category that has not been traditionally talked about in grammars of Mayan languages. The goal of this chapter is to get a broad view of pluractionality in Mayan by presenting a series of pluractionals from two languages, Kaqchikel and Tzeltal, which I take as representative of Western- and Eastern-branch languages, respectively. What we find is that Mayan languages instantiate all of the typologically familiar varieties of pluractionality, making them the ideal languages for studying the phenomenon.


Semantics & Pragmatics. doi: 10.3765/sp.7.6

This paper presents an analysis of a new scope puzzle that arises through the interaction of two lesser-studied constructions, dependent indefinites and verbal pluractionality. The result is a novel account of dependent indefinites that correctly predicts their grammaticality with pluractionals by recognizing two ways of establishing the covariation they require: (i) true distributive quantifiers, and (ii) pluractional operators that structure thematic dependencies. The core insight is that both routes, while compositionally different, lead to similar output structures in Dynamic Plural Logic (DPlL) (van den Berg 1996) or its closely related alternatives (Brasoveanu 2008, Nouwen 2003), which is what dependent indefinites constrain. The analysis not only permits a better understanding of dependent indefinites in Kaqchikel, an endangered and understudied Mayan language of highland Guatemala, but it clarifies their place in a crosslinguistic typology of similar expressions (e.g., Balusu 2006, Choe 1987, Farkas 1997a, 2002, Yanovich 2005). Along the way we produce the first description and analysis of these phenomena in Kaqchikel.


Language Documentation & Conservation. vol 8, pp. 75-91. With Brent Henderson and Peter Rohloff.

Existing models for language revitalization focus almost exclusively on language learning and use. While recognizing the value of these models, we argue that their effective application is largely limited to situations in which languages have low numbers of speakers. For languages that are rapidly undergoing language shift, but which still maintain large vital communities of speakers, a model for revitalization is currently lacking. We offer the beginnings of such a model here, arguing that in these communities doing language revitalization must primarily mean addressing the causes of language shift, a task that we argue can be undertaken in collaborative efforts with social development organizations. The model contrasts strongly (though complementarily) with existing models in that it focuses on work in which explicitly language---focused activities are undertaken only as intentional support for social development projects. Where successful, we argue this approach achieves language revitalization goals in organic and sustainable ways that are much more difficult for language-focused programs to achieve. It therefore has the potential to stop and potentially reverse language shift in specific ways. We offer our experiences with Wuqu' Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance, a healthcare NGO in Guatemala, which attempts to follow this model, as evidence for the model's viability.


Semantics and Linguistic Theory 23. doi: 10.3765/salt

This paper provides a new analysis of N-BY-N adverbials that captures their previously unrecognized close connection to verbs of scalar change. After providing a series of arguments that N-BY-N modification requires the VP to provide a scalar interval it can measure, we use this as novel evidence that incremental theme verbs, as well as inherently directed motion and change of state verbs, must make reference to scales. The analysis thus supports a unified scalar account of verbs of variable telicity (e.g., Hay, Kennedy & Levin 1999; Kennedy & Levin 2008; Kennedy 2012). Finally, we show that our analysis avoids empirical problems for previous approaches to these adverbials in both English (Beck & von Stechow 2007; Brasoveanu & Henderson 2009) and Russian (Braginsky & Rothstein 2008).


Journal of Semantics. doi: 10.1093/jos/fft014. With Scott AnderBois and Adrian Brasoveanu.

Potts (2005) and many subsequent works have argued that the semantic content of appositive (non-restrictive) relative clauses, e.g., the underlined material in John, who nearly killed a woman with his car, visited her in the hospital, must be in some way separate from the content of the rest of the sentence, i.e., from at-issue content. At the same time, there is mounting evidence from various anaphoric processes that the two kinds of content must be integrated into a single, incrementally evolving semantic representation. The challenge is how to reconcile this informational separation with these pervasive anaphoric connections. We propose a dynamic semantic account that accomplishes this by taking appositive and at-issue content to involve two different kinds of updates to the Context Set (CS). Treating the context set as a distinguished propositional variable, pcs, we argue that appositives directly impose their content on the CS by eliminating possible values assigned to pcs. In contrast, we treat at-issue assertions as introducing a new propositional dref and proposing that pcs be updated with its content, subject to addressee's response. In addition to capturing the behavior of appositives in discourse, we show that the account can be extended to capture the projection of appositive content past various sentential operators.


Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. doi: 10.1007/s11049-013-9196-6. With Ryan Bennett

Uspanteko (Guatemala; ~2000 speakers) is an endangered K'ichean-branch Mayan language. It is unique among the K'ichean languages in that, along with obligatory right-edge stress, Uspanteko has innovated a system of contrastive pitch accent. Word-level accent in Uspanteko is of theoretical interest for several reasons. First, it has a mixed accentual system with both stress and lexical pitch accent. Second, lexical pitch has striking effects on prosodic and segmental structure, interacting with stress shift, vowel length, vowel quality, and two deletion processes. Third, pitch accent is closely tied to morphology (especially possessive marking) even though the location of morphologically-derived tone is entirely a matter of surface phonology. Fourth, interactions between tone and vowel length provide evidence for lexical strata within the accentual system of Uspanteko. In this paper we develop a novel analysis of Uspanteko accent, using data drawn from previous research as well as our own recent fieldwork. We propose that the location of pitch accent and stress in Uspanteko can be straightforwardly captured under three assumptions: (i) Uspanteko words contain a single right-aligned iamb; (ii) pitch accent must dock to the head of a foot; and (iii) pitch accent cannot dock to a word-final mora. These assumptions account for default word-final stress, as well as penultimate stress in [CVCV] words bearing pitch accent, which we treat as an iambic-trochaic foot form reversal. Interactions between prosody and segmental structure in Uspanteko are analyzed as the result of further constraints on foot shape, stress assignment, and tone non-finality. A surprising finding of this paper is that there is robust evidence for foot structure in Uspanteko, despite the fact that accent in Uspanteko could easily be described in non-metrical terms. Finally, we model accentual cophonologies in Uspanteko using partially-ordered prosodic constraints.


Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. doi: 10.1007/s11049-012-9170-8

This article develops an analysis of a pair of morphological alternations in K'ichee' (Mayan) that are conditioned at the right edge of intonational phrase boundaries. I propose a syntax-prosody mapping algorithm that derives intonational phrase boundaries from the surface syntax, and then argue that each alternation can be understood in terms of output optimization. The important fact is that a prominence peak is always rightmost in the intonational phrase, and so the morphological alternations occur in order to ensure an optimal host for this prominence peak. Finally, I consider the wider implications of the analysis for the architecture of the syntax-phonology interface, especially as it concerns late-insertion theories of morphology. Warning! Could you please reference the preprint hosted here when citing this paper. I've standardized some of the spelling in the examples (that thankfully do not change empirical or theoretical conclusions.)


Sinn und Bedeutung 16. With Scott AnderBois and Adrian Brasoveanu

Most investigations of quantifier scope are concerned with the range of possible scopes for sentences with multiple quantifiers. Instead, this study examines the actual scopes, i.e., the pragmatics of quantifier scope disambiguation. The three main findings of our investigation are as follows. First, we confirmed the results in the previous literature that linear order and grammatical function have an effect on scope-taking preferences. Second, we discovered that lexical effects on scoping preferences are at least as important as linear order or grammatical function. Third, the relational aspect of these lexical effects, i.e., the lexical realizations of the other quantifiers in the sentence, is also important. The present investigation opens the way towards a broader research program of identifying scoping-behavior patterns that should ultimately enable us to group quantifiers into classes depending on the type of scopal behavior they exhibit. Identifying such classes could provide an empirical basis for semantic theories that assign different kinds of semantic representations to these classes and / or for psycholinguistic theories that hypothesize different processing strategies for different classes.


In "Representing Language: Essays in Honor of Judith Aissen". With Jessica Coon

This paper examines binding puzzles in two Mayan languages and proposes an analysis which unifies two otherwise different-looking constructions: the Chol applicative and the K'ichee' agent focus (AF). In both the Chol applicative and the K'ichee' AF, subjects are banned from binding object possessors. That is, the equivalents of English Maria bought her own tortillas or It was Juan who burned his own foot are impossible in the relevant constructions (though they are possible under a reading in which the subject and object's possessor are not coreferential). We propose that in both types of construction, binding of the object's possessor by the subject is blocked by an intervening v head. In the Chol (low) applicative, this is the head added to introduce the applied argument. In the K'ichee' AF, this is the head needed to introduce the subject; we may think of this as a type of high applicative. In this paper we show that the similar binding restrictions in these two different languages are easily accounted for under a theory which ties the availability of binding to locality with domains defined by v heads, such as the minimal pronoun approach of Kratzer (2009).


West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 28.

Based on the previously unnoticed contrast between standard counterfactuals and the non-canonical counterfactual construction "if not for P, Q" (hereafter NC, for `Not' Counterfactuals), this paper argues for the emerging proposal that two distinct routes to counterfactuality are available in natural language (see e.g., Schulz 2007): (i) global revision of a belief state, and (ii) local revision of a world. Schulz's (2007) observation is that the classic epistemic inferences are precisely those that disappear under local update in a causal model, allowing for a treatment of the ontic-epistemic distinction in counterfactuals as an ambiguity between local and global belief revision. We show that NCs systematically reject epistemic readings, supporting the position that different ways of evaluating the antecedent permit different types of counterfactual inferences, where NCs only allow local revision due to their distinct morphology. The core proposal is that models for interpreting counterfactuals must be enriched with causal laws, and that the antecedents of NCs make local changes to a world to remove a fact contributed by the antecedent, potentially violating the model's causal structure. This accounts for the fact that NCs systematically reject non-causal epistemic inferences, while otherwise retaining their paraphrasability with standard counterfactuals.


Semantics and Linguistic Theory 19. doi: 10.3765/salt.v19i0.2538. With Adrian Brasoveanu

The main goal of the paper is to argue that distributive quantificational dependencies in natural language can be established in two different ways: (i) by encapsulating quantification into functions storing quantificational dependencies as a whole, needed to account for one by one-based distributive sentences like The boys recited "The Raven" one by one -- and (ii) by decomposing quantification in such a way that each n-tuple of quantificationally dependent entities is individually stored in a variable assignment and quantifiers are interpreted relative to the entire set of variables assignments that stores quantificational dependencies in this pointwise, assignment-wise manner needed to account for each-based distributive sentences like The boys each recited a different poem.