Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

On a Class of Syntactic Bracketing Paradoxes and Its Consequences

Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

On a Class of Syntactic Bracketing Paradoxes and Its Consequences

Article excerpt

1. The problem: DP internal properties that scope over the sentence

One of the cornerstones of a structural approach to syntax, semantics and morphology is the expectation that there is a simple correspondence between the structural configuration defined by (morpho)syntax and the interpretation that a sentence receives -perhaps leaving aside the effect of conceptual and contextual accommodation and enrichment. This expected simple relation between structure and meaning has different manifestations, one of which is compositionality - the expectation that the interpretation of a combination of units is a function of the meaning of each unit and the configuration in which they appear, sometimes complemented with independent constraints of what the legitimate structures are, such as Frege's Conjecture-; divergences from compositionality are expected to be exceptional, and marginal in the sense that, if they emerge, they are the effect of information stored in external systems that overwrites the predictable information of the units (see Harley and Noyer 2000, Acquaviva 2009, Borer 2013, inter alia). It is well-known that in recent times, and with a strong empirical base, this situation has been questioned, most significantly from the Construction Grammar side (Goldberg 1995, 2006; Booij 2010; Janda 2011, among others), where structures are substituted by templates to which compositionality does not apply.

However, in this paper we will be concerned with a second prediction of the structural account, namely isomorphism between (morpho)syntax and semantics. The isomorphist hypothesis, as we will refer to it in this article, proposes that the same structure of constituent and hierarchical relations that are necessary to capture the formal syntactic relations between items is the one that is also interpreted by semantics to obtain its meaning. The interface between (morpho)syntax and semantics is thus expected to be quite simple: some authors propose a device that translates hierarchical relations into scope relations or head-dependent relations into theta roles (e.g., Beghelli and Stowell 1997), while others go as far as to say that there is no need to posit that independent interface, because (morpho)syntactic structures define simultaneously the semantic output, excluding the definition of concepts that connect to our world knowledge (Hinzen 2006, Ramchand 2008, Svenonius 2010). Sometimes learnability is presented as an argument in favour of isomorphism. The argument goes that if the translation to semantics was able to rearrange constituents, add operators ad libitum or reverse hierarchical relations, the operations that the child has to learn during acquisition would be multiplied by three: one structure for syntax, a different structure for semantics and a set of rules or constraints that relate syntactic structures to semantic structures.

In morphology, cases that in principle argue against isomorphism have been wellknown and relatively well studied for a while: they receive the name of bracketing paradoxes, cases where the formal properties of a complex word require a segmentation that is at odds with what we require to interpret them (e.g., Beard 1991). Unsurprisingly, bracketing paradoxes have been taken as one of the arguments to deny the existence of word-internal structure (Anderson 1992), again showing the strong commitment that a structural account of linguistic utterances makes to principles like isomorphism or compositionality.

The empirical aspect of this paper is the study of a number of cases that on the surface could argue against isomorphism in syntax, and specifically cases where a DP-internal modifier has to be semantically interpreted as having scope over the verb or even higher constituents in the structure of the clause. This class of 'syntactic bracketing-paradoxes' are actually more pervasive than we could initially expect. As we will see, this phenomenon has consequences that go beyond isomorphism, and which relate to the following set of questions:

a) Under what conditions can we license verbal or clausal properties inside DPs? …

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