UIC TiL: David Pesetsky

This week we’re honored to have MIT’s David Pesetsky at UIC’s Talks in Linguistics.  His talk, entitled, “Islands, case and licensing: the neglected role of the attractor,” will take place at 3 PM on Friday, March 5th.  Please note that the location is in Grant Hall 304 (703 S. Morgan Street 60607).

David Pesetsky (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Islands, case and licensing: the neglected role of the attractor

In this talk, I focus on two justly celebrated syntactic proposals that nonetheless fall short of solving the full range of problems that one might expect them to:  (1) Case Theory as an explanation for the surface distribution of arguments; and (2) Phase theory as an explanation for island constraints on movement.  I argue that the right supplement to Case Theory simultaneously explains certain islands — so that Phase theory, at least, turns out to need neither supplement nor revision once Case Theory is properly supplemented and revised.

Case Theory has accounted successfully for a range of restrictions on nominal arguments not found with non-nominals, but fails to predict an array of restrictions with a similar flavor that make distinctions among the non-nominals.  In response to this observation, Pesetsky & Torrego (2006) have argued that case theory interacts with a distinct but closely related requirement that I will call here “Extended Licensing” — which restricts certain possibilities for clausal complementation that would otherwise be allowed by standard Case Theory.

The theory of Phases (Spellout Domains) — when embedded in a theory in which movement is motivated by the featural properties of an attractor — accounts for the necessity of successive-cyclicity. and predicts those island effects that can be attributed to the blocking of the phase-peripheral escape hatch by other material.  Nonetheless, at least two types of islands, clausal complements to N (one case of Ross’s CNPC) and subject position (Chomsky’s 1973 “Subject Condition”), have received no explanation in these terms, since normal escape routes through phase-edges appear to be available in both configurations.

I will argue that given the need for successive cyclicity imposed by Phase theory and the hypothesis that movement requires a featurally appropriate attractor, the CNPC and the Subject Condition turn out to reflect independently detectable constraints imposed by Extended Licensing theory on the distribution of the attractor itself.  One key argument for this proposal will come from hitherto unnoticed parallels between the distribution of phases whose head hosts successive-cyclic A-bar movement and phases that host A-bar movement that does not proceed further (such as embedded questions).

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