Friday, January 4, 2013

Issues in Salish Syntax and Semantics

Henry Davis, Lisa Matthewson
Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume 3, Issue 4, July 2009


The Salish language family is of special interest for syntactic and semantic theory because it has been argued to differ radically from Indo-European languages in both structure and interpretation (see, e.g., Kinkade 1983; Jelinek and Demers 1994; Jelinek 1995; Ritter and Wiltschko 2005, forthcoming; Davis 2006, 2009; Matthewson 2006a, forthcoming). In this article, we survey four theoretical debates in the syntactic and semantic literature on Salish, one from each of the areas of lexical semantics, super-lexical syntax, semantics and pragmatics, with an eye to pinning down the principal loci of variation between Salish and Indo-European. In the domain of lexical semantics, we argue for the hypothesis that all Salish verb roots are intransitive and unaccusative. In the area of syntax, we outline the predictions of the Pronominal Argument Hypothesis, and provide counterarguments which show that at least some and probably all Salish languages have a fully configurational syntax. Turning to tense, we argue that Salish languages are tensed, despite superficial evidence to the contrary. Finally, we present arguments that at least one Salish language differs radically from English in its pragmatics: it lacks any familiarity presuppositions. Our conclusion is that major parametric differences between Salish and Indo-European languages are not to be found in the syntax or sentence-level semantics, but in the pragmatics, and possibly the lexical semantics.

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