Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint: Facts and Fictions Revisited
Jessica Coon, Nico Baier, Theodore Levin
April 2019

Many languages of the Mayan family restrict the extraction of transitive (ergative) subjects for focus, wh-questions, and relativization (A'-extraction). We follow Aissen 2017 in labelling this restriction the ergative extraction constraint (EEC). In this paper, we offer a unified account of the EEC within Mayan languages, as well as an analysis of the special construction known as Agent Focus (AF) used to circumvent it. Specifically, we propose that the EEC has a similar source across the subset of Mayan languages which exhibit it: locality. The locality problem is created when an object DP structurally intervenes between the A'-probe on C and the ergative subject. Evidence that locality is the source of the problem comes from a handful of exceptional contexts which permit transitive subjects to extract in languages which normally ban this extraction, and conversely, contexts which exceptionally ban ergative extraction in languages which otherwise allow it. We argue that the problem with A'-extracting the ergative subject across the intervening object connects to the requirements of the A'-probe on C: the probe on C is bundled to search simultaneously for [A'] and [D] features. This connects the Mayan patterns to recent proposals for extraction patterns in Austronesian languages (e.g. Aldridge to appear) and elsewhere (van Urk 2015). Adapting the proposal of Coon and Keine 2018, we argue that in configurations in which a DP object intervenes between the probe on C and an A'-subject, conflicting requirements on movement lead to a derivational crash. While we propose that the EEC has a uniform source across the family, we argue that AF constructions vary Mayan-internally in how they circumvent the EEC, accounting for the variation in behavior of AF across the family. This paper both contributes to our understanding of parametric variation internal to the Mayan family, as well as to the discussion of variation in A'-extraction asymmetries and syntactic ergativity cross-linguistically.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004545
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Ms. McGill University
keywords: a'-extraction, extraction restrictions, syntactic ergativity, agent focus, mayan, morphology, syntax
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