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Constructing (In)definites: Lessons from Chuj

Justin Royer
University of California, Berkeley
Tue December 5th 2023, 3:30 - 4:50pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Room 048

Chuj, an understudied Mayan language spoken in Guatemala and Mexico, exhibits rich DP morphosyntax. In this work, I argue that this morphosyntax provides key insight into the building blocks of (in)definiteness, and aligns with an increasing number of works that have argued that definiteness comes in different flavours (e.g., Schwarz 2009; Arkoh and Matthewson 2013; Jenks 2018; Jenks and Konate 2022), which Chuj shows must arise as a result of a decomposition of functional heads within the nominal domain (as proposed in e.g., Simonenko 2014; Coppock and Beaver 2015; Hanink 2018; Ahn 2019). This talk also demonstrates that some of the same pieces involved in the composition of definite expressions can appear with indefinites, resulting in “specific indefinites”. I argue that a key ingredient needed to account for this fact comes from the kind of value assigned to the situation argument of definite versus indefinite expressions, responsible for contextual domain restriction (Schwarz 2009, 2012). Specifically, I build on insights from Schwarzschild (2002) to propose that in order to capture the rich array of semantic and pragmatic distinctions expressed by combinations of functional elements within Chuj DPs, semantic presuppositions must sometimes be relativized to situations whose value is only known to the speaker (private situations), instead of all discourse participants (familiar situations).