Joseph Sabbagh, UT Arlington

Thursday, February 21st, 12 noon, Humanities 1 Building, Room 210

Specificity and Objecthood in Tagalog

Current analyses of the syntax of transitive constructions in Tagalog (Austronesian, Philippines) are constructed around the claim that the theme argument of a transitive verb, if it is semantically specific, must be realized as the subject of a ‘theme-subject’ clause. In reality, a specific theme may be realized in one of three different ways: (i) as the subject of a ‘theme-subject’ clause; (ii) as an oblique-marked direct object of an `actor-subject’ clause; or (iii) as an “ordinary” (genitive marked) direct object of an ‘actor-subject’ clause. Which of these options is available depends on the type of theme involved: Option(iii) is not available for pronouns or proper nouns, but is available for other specific and non-specific themes; options (i) and (ii) are unavailable for non-specific themes; and all three are available for all other types of specific theme.

Underlying these different morpho-syntactic options, I argue, is a clause structure in which there are at least three distinct syntactic positions available for theme arguments. Pronoun and proper noun themes obligatorily occur in the highest of these three positions (a position that is above the external argument), while non-specific themes occupy the lowest of these positions (the base/theta-position of the theme). Otherspecific themes occupy an intermediate position within vP (below the external argument, but above the base/theta-position of the theme). Much of the talk is devoted to motivating these three syntactic positions. This particular distribution of syntactic positions provides positive evidence for proposals that postulate a direct,formally coded, correspondence between syntactic prominence and the semantic/pragmatic prominence relations posited by relational/markedness hierarchies—in particular, the Definiteness Scale (Pronoun > Proper noun > Definite > Specific (indefinite)).