Still solid, after 20 years

(Warning: heavy technical linguistics.)

This morning a linguist working on auxiliary reduction in Scots dialects wrote to ask me about the 1997 Pullum & Zwicky LSA paper “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to auxiliary reduction” (a paper Geoff and I are still proud of). The abstract is available on this blog, but the handout is not (though other handouts are there). A significant problem with word processing formats was the culprit, but (spurred by my correspondent’s query) Geoff managed to unearth a clean copy of the reading script for the paper, which includes everything from the handout and more. Now available for public consumption here.

The abstract, very slightly edited for this format:

Auxiliary reduction (e.g. she’s for she is) is well known to be blocked before sites of VP ellipsis (*She’s usually home when he’s), pseudogapping (*It’s doing more for me than it’s for you), wh-movement (*I wonder where he’s now?), etc. Most analyses connect this to empty categories. We show that this is incorrect.

Selkirk (Phonology and syntax, 1984:366) proposes a syntactic condition on prosody: Deaccenting is necessary for reduction, and a phrase-final monosyllable cannot be deaccented. Inkelas & Zec (1993) place the condition on prosodic (not syntactic) phrases, assuming the mapping principle that a dislocated syntactic phrase begins a new phonological phrase. Such accounts fail to predict correctly on comparative subdeletion (*She’s a better scientist than he’s [NP an [QP Ø ] engineer]) or examples with subject-auxiliary inversion (*He’s taller than’s his friend [AP Ø]). Here the empty category or extraction or ellipsis site does not abut the auxiliary, yet still it cannot reduce. Inkelas & Zec posit (on rather weak arguments) dislocation in subdeletion and pseudogapping and thus predict the lack of deaccenting; but they must allow reduction in subject-auxiliary inversion sentences to get Who’s your friend?, so they apparently cannot block *He’s taller than’s his friend [AP Ø].

Previously unnoticed is the relevance of rejoinder emphasis with too/so, as in I am TOO gonna fix it!. Reduction is blocked (*I’m TOO gonna fix it!) — but here THERE IS NO DISPLACED OR ELIDED CONSTITUENT. This is the key to the constraints on auxiliary reduction. A syntactic condition of rejoinder emphasis calls for light accent on the auxiliary verb and heavy accent on too/so (prosodic conditions of this sort on syntactic constructions are not uncommon). But since (as noted by Selkirk) an auxiliary can reduce only when completely stressless, the requirements of rejoinder emphasis and auxiliary reduction clash irresolvably.

All the other constructions mentioned above similarly require lightly accented auxiliaries. For example, the VP ellipsis construction could be described as one in which a VP contains nothing but a lightly accented head (applied semantically to a free variable over VP meanings). What this means is the distribution of reduced auxiliaries can be completely accounted for by Selkirk’s stresslessness condition — except that there are certain left context conditions on cliticization (noted by Kaisse 1983), these being the only remaining syntactic conditions on reduction: Auxiliaries cliticize only to (1) subjects, (2) subordinators (than, that), (3) proadverbial so, or (4) wh-words.

Our analysis needs no special rule for auxiliary reduction at all. As a matter of morphology, the auxiliaries have (at least) two shapes, one when completely deaccented and one when accented, and the syntax of certain constitutuent types determines light accent on head verbs (something that has to be stated anyway). This analysis offers no support for traces; in fact if traces exist, then Selkirk’s condition has to be modified rather awkwardly to say not just ‘if it ends a constituent’ but ‘if it ends a constituent or has as its complement a case-marked trace.’

First personal note: the abstract went through some phenomenal number of drafts. A final touch was removing any mention of either Pullum or Zwicky, since we believed a number of referees would have been strongly biased against an abstract that appeared to come from one or the other (or both) of us. [added later: Actually, one instance of my name survived, in the brief review of the literature.] The stratagem seems to have been successful.

Second personal note: this paper was the last refereed paper I gave at an LSA meeting. (I gave a Linguistic Institute Forum Lecture in 1999, and attended LSA meetings in 2002 (San Francisco), 2005 (Oakland), and 2009 (San Francisco), but without giving papers). The circumstances of my life make it unlikely that I’ll attend another LSA meeting, so this 1997 paper was a last hurrah. A good one, I think.

(There’s an extension of the 1997 paper that I gave as a seminar at Stanford in 1999. Its abstract was badly mangled by software changes, but I’m trying to hack it back into readability.)

2 Responses to “Still solid, after 20 years”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Amy Dahlstrom on Facebook:

    Arnold, I know the abstract for this paper well. I was on the LSA Program Committee that year and we wanted to post model good abstracts. Your (dual) abstract was chosen as the model syntax abstract and I added annotations to explain why it is so good. The annotated version is still on the LSA website:
    http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/model-abstracts
    We also wanted to post examples of bad abstracts but obviously could not embarrass anyone by posting an actual submission. So I rewrote your good abstract to make it bad. That’s also still up on the website.
    John Kingston ‪did the same for a phonology abstract but I guess that “bad” one is no longer available. It was an interesting exercise to write badly on purpose.

    And from John Kingston:

    The good phonology abstract was by Anthony Dubach Green. The title was “Constraints on the interaction of stress and weight in Irish and Manx”. Like Amy, I wrote an exegesis of why the original abstract was so good, rewrote it to make it as bad as possible, and explained its flaws. If I can find a means of reading old WordPerfect files, I can recover these documents.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Steve Anderson on Facebook:

    I wasn’t at that LSA meeting, but I did know the paper via the abstract published as a model. In that form, it played a big role in the development of my own (distinct, but largely similar) analysis of reduced auxiliaries as in my 2005 clitics book [and more fully in a paper that appeared ten years after yours, in Lingue e linguaggio 7:169-186].

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