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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wh-constructions in Nêhiyawêwin (Plains Cree) Blain, Eleanor M.


This thesis provides an analysis of wh-questions in Nêhiyawêwin (Plains Cree). The study is done within the Principles and Parameters framework (Chomsky 1981, 1986, 1995). I argue that Nêhiyawêwin wh-words like awfna 'who' are not generated in argument position and do not undergo A-bar movement to Spec CP (Chapter 3). Rather, they are licensed as the predicate of a nominal clause, and respect the same syntactic constraints as other nominal clauses: they are strictly predicatê-initial; obey a referentiality hierarchy; and display agreement for number, animacy and obviation (chapter 4). I analyze Nêhiyawêwin nominal clauses as IP with a null Infl head in which the predicate fronts to Spec CP. The clausê-initial position of the wh-word is thus part of a more general process of predicatefronting. The nominal clause analysis of wh-words accounts for the absence of wh-movement per se in the language, as well as for the absence of wh in situ. However, based on their interpretive properties, wh-questions must contain an operator-variable chain. I argue that the operator-variable relation arises when the subject of the nominal clause links to an A-position in a subordinate clause. This occurs in one of two ways: by means of the kâ-complementizer or the ê-complementizer (Chapter 5). If the subordinate clause has kâ-, the resulting structure is a relative clause which restricts the reference of the subject. This yields a cleft construction: Who is it[sub i] that Mary likes t[sub i] ? If the subordinate clause has ê-, the clauses are conjoined, and null-operator movement in the subordinate clause forces an anaphoric relation between the wh-word and the A-position in the ê- clause: Who is he[sub i] & OP[sub i] Mary likes him[sub i]. Having shown how Nêhiyawêwin wh-words are associated with an operator-variable chain, I then consider the consequences of the proposed analysis (Chapter 6). A defining property of wh-chains is their sensitivity to island effects. Consistent with this, there is an argument/adjunct asymmetry in Nêhiyawêwin, which in turn bears on the question of where overt arguments are positioned in a polysynthetic language. I argue that complement clauses are basê-generated in an A-position, unlike overt DPs which are in an A'-position (adjoined to IP). This explains why long-distance extraction is possible from complement clauses, while extraction from adjunct clauses is ungrammatical. Another property of wh-chains is their sensitivity to Weak Crossover (WCO). WCO effects are absent in Nêhiyawêwin wh-questions. I argue that WCO may be avoided because there is no movement of a truly quantificational operator in the sense of Lasnik and Stowell (1991), but rather movement of a null operator. I then propose a Weakest Crossover analysis for the absence of WCO, following Demirdache (1997).

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