On the nature of crosslinguistic variation: Insights from anaphora
Thomas McFadden, Sandhya Sundaresan, Hedde Zeijlstra
May 2021

Do systematic interpretive contrasts across languages derive from the employment of universal grammatical building blocks, or do they stem from differing semantic specifications on simplex formatives that feed into (Neo- Gricean) pragmatic reasoning? Is evidence for grammatical features underlying a particular contrast in one language an argument for those features being universal and thus present in another language where such evidence is lacking? In this paper, we explore this complex of big-picture questions on the basis of so-called *ABA patterns, especially in the area of nominal pro-forms i.e. the various types of anaphors and pronouns. To sharpen the issues, we compare two radically opposed perspectives, which we dub Rich Universal Base and Poor Universal Base. We show that either one could in principle account for the basic *ABA facts, leaving the door open for an unsatisfying debate on conceptual and aesthetic grounds. We thus explore ways in which the debate can be put back onto an empirical footing by identifying distinct predictions that the two approaches make for the behavior of surface forms that are ambiguous between anaphoric and pronominal reference. We then use these to develop concrete diagnostics and give a preliminary demonstration of how they might be applied in languages with the right cluster of properties to empirically resolve the debate.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005979
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: universals; cross-linguistic variation; *aba; anaphors; pronouns; neo- gricean reasoning, semantics, morphology, syntax
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