Definiteness determined by syntax

A case study in Tagalog

Abstract

Using Tagalog as a case study, this paper provides an analysis of a cross-linguistically well attested phenomenon, namely, cases in which a bare NP’s syntactic position is linked to its interpretation as definite or indefinite. Previous approaches to this phenomenon, including analyses of Tagalog, appeal to specialized interpretational rules, such as Diesing’s Mapping Hypothesis. I argue that the patterns fall out of general compositional principles so long as type-shifting operators are available to the grammatical system. I begin by weighing in a long-standing issue for the semantic analysis of Tagalog: the interpretational distinction between genitive and nominative transitive patients. I show that bare NP patients are interpreted as definites if marked with nominative case and as narrow scope indefinites if marked with genitive case. Bare NPs are understood as basically predicative; their quantificational force is determined by their syntactic position. If they are syntactically local to the selecting verb, they are existentially quantified by the verb itself. If they occupy a derived position, such as the subject position, they must type-shift in order to avoid a type-mismatch, generating a definite interpretation. Thus the paper develops a theory of how the position of an NP is linked to its interpretation, as well as providing a compositional treatment of NP-interpretation in a language which lacks definite articles but demonstrates other morphosyntactic strategies for signaling (in)definiteness.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Abbreviations used—av actor voice; bv benefactive voice; caus causative; comp complementizer; fut future; gen genitive case; inf infinitive; iv instrumental voice; lk linker; lv locative voice; neg negation; nom nominative case; obl oblique case; perf perfect; pl plural; prog progressive; pv patient voice; q question particle; sg singular; top topic.

  2. 2.

    This morphological analysis is a simplification. Tagalog verbs are additionally marked for grammatical aspect. Inchoative aspect is marked by the infix -in-, which deletes in the presence of -um-, as in (4a). For simplicity, I characterize -um- as dually marking inchoative and actor voice. Furthermore, patient voice is better characterized as being marked by the suffix -in, which deletes in the presence of the inchoative infix -in-. Again for simplicity, I analyze -in- as dually marking patient voice and inchoative. Also note that perfective aspect in Tagalog is marked jointly by the inchoative infix and a lack of reduplication, thus -in- is glossed as perf.

  3. 3.

    Expressions in the metalanguage map to objects in a given model M, using the interpretation function \([\!\![\cdot]\!\!]^{M,g}\). The definite description therefore refers to the individual who uniquely instantiates the intersection of the overt content of the description as well as the domain restriction C. If unique instantiation does not hold, reference fails.

    1. (6)

      \([\!\![\iota x[C(x) \wedge\textbf{table}(x)]]\!\!]^{M,g} = d\) if \([\!\![\lambda x.C(x) \wedge\textbf{table}(x)]]\!\!]^{M,g} = \{d\}\), else undefined.

  4. 4.

    With thanks to Geraldine Baniqued, Johann Carlos Sulit Barcena, Luvee Hazel Calventas-Aquino, Jo Castro, Joe-Bren Consuelo, Valerie Gamao, Ginalyn Garcia, Anne Jelai, Fely Morallo, and Catherine Tadina. According to the speakers, Tagalog is (one of) their native language(s). Only Castro and Gamao identified as heritage speakers. Baniqued, Barcena, Castro, Gamao, and Tadina were undergraduate or graduate students at Stanford University at the time of their service as consultants. Calventas-Aquino and Consuelo were visiting lecturers at Stanford University teaching courses in Tagalog. Garcia, Jelai, and Morallo were English language students (educated in the Philippines) procured online via language exchange programs.

  5. 5.

    Schachter and Otanes (1985: Sect. 3.9) observe that plural marking, generally signalled by the pre-nominal particle mga may be dropped in Tagalog, thus unmarked NPs may take on plural interpretations. This creates a potential confound in the judgment of unquantified NPs in contexts priming uniqueness such as the one in (8). In my observations, speakers did not interpret nominative NPs without mga as plurals, as the judgment in (8a) and elsewhere in the paper suggest. In Dionisio’s (2012: Sect. 7.2) study of mga, she claims that only some speakers accept plural interpretations of nominatives without mga, stating that all of her consultants rejected plural interpretations of non-pluralized nominatives. Schachter and Otanes also note that speakers by default interpret non-pluralized NPs as singular without explicit contextual priming. The semantics and pragmatics of pluralization in Tagalog is a fruitful topic for future research but is out of this paper’s scope, which focuses on singular, count NPs.

  6. 6.

    Both ang and ng are clearly tied to the grammatical relation of the marked NP, thus their case marking function is assumed to be uncontroversial. The more specific analysis of ang and ng as dual markers of case and definiteness/specificity has precedence. Reid (2000, 2002) claims that ang historically derives from a demonstrative particle a (plus nominative case marking and the linker morpheme ng). Likewise, Kroeger (1988) and Foley (1998) show how pre-nominal particles in Kimaragang, a related Philippine-type language, dually mark case and definiteness.

  7. 7.

    Throughout, W stands for a naturally occurring example found online.

  8. 8.

    A reviewer points out that some of these lexical items such as karamihan ‘most’ and lahat ‘all’ could be instead analyzed as nouns (analogous to English ‘plurality/majority’ and ‘whole/entirety’ respectively). This alternative analysis would be consistent with the syntactic analysis of ang as category D. The analysis of expressions like karamihan and lahat as syntactically nominal is certainly possible, however, it does not obviously extend to other examples of quantificational expressions which demonstrate different, non-nominal morphosyntactic properties such as isang ‘one’ and maraming ‘many’, which attach to the head noun via the ‘linker’ -ng, and bawat which attaches directly to the head noun. As stated above (34), the label Q should be taken as a loosely defined syntactic category, generally applicable to a range of quantificational expressions of potentially various morphosyntactic categories, including nominal and non-nominal quantificational expressions.

  9. 9.

    Though see Kroeger (1993) for arguments that the control facts are more complicated and vary depending on the predicate and modality.

  10. 10.

    These structures predict that the nominative KP is always clause-final. However, Tagalog’s word order is to some extent flexible. Guilfoyle et al. (1992) discuss how variant word orders without clause-final nominatives can be derived. Firstly, pronominal arguments (including nominatives) are always expressed as clitics attached to the leftmost constituent of the clause. Secondly, nominative actors are permitted to remain in their thematic positions (Spec,VoiceP). Finally, Tagalog allows rightward shifting of prosodically prominent KPs and PPs.

  11. 11.

    In derivations like (40), we are dealing with the composition of the verbal root in V with its KP-arguments. Here, kain ‘eat’ lacks its actor voice infix -um-. V is represented as an uninflected verbal root in order to maintain consistency with the syntactic analysis assumed in this paper. The verbal root is category V, which concatenates with voice and aspect morphemes via head movement, which is irrelevant for the purposes of semantic composition (see Aldridge 2004).

  12. 12.

    NB: the representations above leave out domain restriction for simplicity. To be precise, try is a universal quantifier over worlds, such that its prejacent is true in all worlds compatible with x’s goals. \(\lambda w.\textbf{try}_{w} (x)\ (\lambda v.\exists y[P_{v} (y) \wedge \textbf{find}_{v} (y)(x)]) = \lambda w.\forall v[\textbf{goals}_{w} (v)(x) \rightarrow \exists y[P_{v} (y) \wedge \textbf{find}_{v} (y)(x)]]\), where \(\textbf{goals}_{w} (v)(x)\) means that v is compatible with x’s goals in w.

  13. 13.

    Guilfoyle et al. (1992) don’t provide an explicit analysis of pronominal clitics. I assume that they undergo cliticization in order to attach to the right edge of the main verb and that this movement is irrelevant for the purposes of semantic composition.

  14. 14.

    A question arises as to why the property-denoting I’-constituent cannot be interpreted employing iota. This would give rise to an interpretation of (66) approximating “The unique thing that Maria saw is a computer.” which is not a possible reading. Here, I follow the intuition that Partee’s theory is intended as a theory of NP-interpretation and therefore the application of type-shifters is sensitive to the syntactic category of the tree structure being interpreted.

  15. 15.

    How tied is this analysis to Guilfoyle et al.’s syntactic structure, i.e., is it crucial that the nominative NP occupy Spec,IP? Aldridge (2004, 2006) and Rackowski and Richards (2005) assume that nominative NPs move to a specifier of vP instead. The analysis presented in this section is compatible with these alternative syntactic analyses, so long as we make the standard assumption that the v’-constituent which is sister to the nominative NP under these analyses is specified to compose with individual-denoting expressions. The composition will proceed just like in (68), except for the alteration in the syntactic categories of the constituents.

  16. 16.

    Chierchia’s (1998) original proposal includes a similar principle which determines that the indefinite type-shifter is less preferred than a type-shifter which shifts property-denoting expressions to kind-denoting expressions.

  17. 17.

    Coppock and Beaver suggest this principle could reduce to a preference against structures which require covert movement. As 〈〈e,t〉,t〉-type expressions are interpreted using an operation like QR, while e-type expressions aren’t, e-type expressions should be preferred.

  18. 18.

    The equivalence between the expressions λy.∃x[x = zhide(x)(y)] and λy.hide(z)(y) is perhaps easier to see if we consider the set theoretic denotations. The statement ∃x[x = zhide(x)(y)] is true iff the singleton set containing the variable z, {z}, has one member in common with the set of individuals hidden by y, {x:hide(x)(y)}. The only way for this statement to be true is if z is hidden by y, i.e., hide(z)(y).

  19. 19.

    Although the voice morpheme is often semantically contentful (depending on the identity of the root), encoding information relating to the lexical aspect/aktionsart, I have not represented this information within the semantics of the voice morpheme or Infl within this representation for reasons of simplicity.

  20. 20.

    A reviewer asks in what order the following operations take place: (i) iota-shifting of the nominative patient, and (ii) movement of the nominative patient to Spec,IP. If (i) takes place after (ii), why doesn’t the nominative patient compose directly with the transitive verb without type-shifting? In this paper’s analysis, the movement of the subject takes place in the overt syntax, driven by syntactic considerations, for example, in the Hung (1988a) and Guilfoyle et al. analysis of Philippine-type voice systems, the NP in question moves to the subject position in order to be Case licensed.

    Thus, there is no question of why the nominative patient doesn’t compose directly with the transitive verb. A structure in which the nominative NP is a structural sister to the transitive verb is never “delivered” to the compositional semantic component of grammar. With this understanding of the syntax-semantics interface in mind, the ordering of (i) and (ii) is not important. Regardless of whether iota-shifting of the nominative patient takes place before or after movement of the patient to Spec,IP, the interpretation will be the same: the patient will still be a type e definite, which composes with the I’-constituent.

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Acknowledgements

With thanks to Dylan Bumford, Ivano Caponigro, Cleo Condoravdi, Lelia Glass, Vera Gribanova, Henrison Hsieh, Masoud Jasbi, Paul Kiparsky, Christopher Potts, Barry Schein, Lisa Travis, audiences at NELS 46 (Concordia University), Stanford University and UC Berkeley for many helpful comments. Thanks also to Henriette de Swart, and four anonymous reviewers for detailed reviews which greatly improved the paper.

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Collins, J.N. Definiteness determined by syntax. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 37, 1367–1420 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-018-9436-x

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Keywords

  • Definiteness
  • Tagalog
  • Austronesian
  • Syntax-semantics interface
  • Quantification
  • Type-shifting
  • Bare NPs