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A New Construction in Estonian Verb-Second / On the Move: Free Word Order in Lithuanian

Scott Borgeson and Eva Portelance
Stanford University
May 18, 2018 - 1:30pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Greenberg Room (460-126)

A New Construction in Estonian Verb-Second

Most clauses in Estonian follow the verb-second pattern shown below.

1.   Eile      tahtsin ma seda teha
 yesterday wanted  I    this to-do

2. Ma tahtsin      eile       seda teha.
I    wanted yesterday this to-do

Traditionally, such systems have been explained by positing that 1) the finite verb moves to some phrasal head at the left edge of the clause, and 2) that a single constituent moves to the specifier position of that head (den Besten 1983, Vikner 1995, etc.). Most apparent exceptions to this pattern that are found in the literature (Lindstrom 2001 and 2007, Erelt 2003), can easily be explained with a few simple stipulations—that is, without abandoning the above framework.

In this talk, I document and examine a new construction, which is universally accepted by some speakers, only accepted in certain environments by others, and unacceptable in any environment by a third group. These are clauses which resemble the verb-second pattern, but in which multiple phrasal constituents appear before the fronted verb.

3. Ma seda tahtsin      eile        teha.
I    this   wanted yesterday to-do.

I argue that the traditional verb-second framework is sufficient to capture such sentences if we posit that more than one constituent can move to the specifier position mentioned above. This account has much in common with multiple-specifier accounts of multiple-WH-movement (Rudin 1988, Richards 1998), including the prediction that the ordering of the constituents involved must be the same before and after movement, which I will show is indeed borne out. I will also flesh out an alternative account involving multiple phrase heads with a single specifier each, and will demonstrate that it cannot easily capture the data we observe.


On the Move: Free Word Order in Lithuanian

Working within a minimalist grammar framework, this paper presents new data from a corpus study as well as native speaker judgements to argue that scrambling - the syntactic movement approach for deriving various word orders - in Lithuanian transitive sentences does not affect structural relations or semantic interpretations within a given derivation, but does affect information structure. Given these observations the paper proposes a post-syntactic approach to derive these orders. In doing so, it also explores whether or not the previous assumption that Lithuanian has Subject-Verb-Object underlying word order is a valid one.

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