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Nominal licensing in caseless languages


This paper provides evidence for a kind of nominal licensing (Vergnaud licensing) in a number of morphologically caseless languages. Recent work on Bantu languages has suggested that abstract Case or nominal licensing should be parameterised (Diercks 2012, Van der Wal 2015a). With this is mind, we critically discuss the status of Vergnaud licensing in six languages lacking morphological case. While Luganda appears to systematically lack a Vergnaud licensing requirement, Makhuwa more consistently displays evidence in favour of it, as do all of the analytic languages that we survey (Mandarin, Yoruba, Jamaican Creole and Thai). We conclude that, while it seems increasingly problematic to characterise nominal licensing in terms of uninterpretable/abstract Case features, we nonetheless need to retain a (possibly universal) notion of nominal licensing, the explanation for which remains opaque.

Corresponding author
Author’s address:Department of English and Media (Linguistics Section), Anglia Ruskin University, 323 Helmore Building, East Road, Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK
Author’s address: Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Postbus 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
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This research was partly funded by the European Research Council Advanced Grant No. 269752 ‘Rethinking Comparative Syntax’ on which both authors were employed. We would like to thank Freddy Hu and Cherry Lam (Mandarin), Minah Nabirye (Lusoga), Saudah Namyalo and Judith Nakayiza (Luganda), James Naruadol Chancharu and On-usa Phimswat (Thai), Calbert Graham (Jamaican Creole) and Dominic Oyeniran and Oluseye Adesola (Yoruba) for discussion and for sharing their linguistic intuitions with us. We also thank the audiences at the meetings of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain Annual Meeting 2014, the Societas Linguistica Europaea 2014 the workshop ‘State of the Art in Comparative Syntax’ at the Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop 2014 and the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 2015 for questions and suggestions, and the ReCoS team (Theresa Biberauer, Tim Bazalgette, András Bárány, Georg Höhn and in particular Alison Biggs and Ian Roberts), three anonymous Journal of Linguistics referees, Volker Struckmeier and Sten Vikner for suggestions and discussion. Finally, thanks to Victor Manfredi for help with the Yoruba questionnaires, and Peter Jenks for sharing his insights on Thai. The points of view expressed here and any misrepresentations are ours alone.

The paper was written while the second author was at the University of Cambridge, and revised and accepted for publication while she was at Harvard University.

Glossing used in this paper follow the Leipzig Glossing Rules and the following additional abbreviations: a $=$ augment, af $=$ agent focus, ap $=$ antipassive, cj $=$ conjoint form, conn $=$ connective, cont $=$ continuous, dj $=$ disjoint form), fs $=$ final suffix, ger $=$ gerund, itv $=$ intransitive verb, lnk $=$ link, om $=$ object marker, opt $=$ optative, pro $=$ independent pronoun, px $=$ prefix, rn $=$ relational noun, sm $=$ subject marker, tv $=$ transitive verb. Numbers in glosses refer to Bantu noun classes unless followed by sg/pl.

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Journal of Linguistics
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