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Origins of predicates : evidence from Plains Cree Hirose, Tomio

Abstract

This thesis advances a new perspective of predicates in natural language (e.g. “tall” in “John is tall” and “tell” in “I told Mary funnies”). I make two major claims: first, predicates are defined in terms of three properties, (i) argument-taking ability, (ii) temporality, (iii) conceptual content; second, predicates are not a lexical primitive, but a syntactic construct such that the three defining properties of a predicate "meet" one another only in the syntax. I also propose a particular set of syntactic structures that instantiate the above claims in line with Chomsky's (1995) theory of "bare phrase structure." Data drawn from Plains Cree, an Algonquian language, play a central role in justifying the proposed view of predicates. By identifying morphological complexity of this language's "verbal complexes"—word-like morphological units that are semantically equivalent to propositions—with syntactic complexity, I claim that morphemes internal to Plains Cree verbal complexes should be interpreted as lexical items that enter into the syntax. I propose a particular distribution of these three defining properties of a predicate as a distinct set of morphemes. By demonstrating that the proposed distribution of the three defining properties of a predicate provides insights into morphosemantic and morphosyntactic properties of Plains Cree verbal complexes, I argue for the proposed analysis of natural language predicates. Morphosemantically, the fact that the combination of a root and appropriate agreement morphology fails to form a proposition in Plains Cree (contrary to many other "polysynthetic" languages) follows from the claim that Plains Cree roots are not predicates, and bear only conceptual content. I also argue that identification of temporality as the "dynamicity" of Verkuyl (1972, 1993) specified on transitivitiy suffixes accounts for the absence of "aspectual stacking" in the language. Morphosyntactically, I demonstrate that assignment of argument-taking ability to three sets of non-root morphemes captures properties of noun incorporation phenomena in Plains Cree. I also demonstrate that the proposed syntactic structures explain properties of two operator-like morphemes in the language. These phenomena characteristically exhibit c-command and locality effects, which otherwise must be simply stipulated in a-syntactic terms.

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