Clause structure and ergativity in Nukuoro
Emily Drummond
December 2023

This dissertation provides a description and analysis of the syntax of Nukuoro, an understudied Polynesian Outlier language spoken in the Federated States of Micronesia. A primary goal of this work is to provide documentation of Nukuoro in its cultural and historical context; as such, the first part of this thesis includes an overview of Nukuoro documentation and revitalization efforts, a grammatical sketch of the language, and an analysis of Nukuoro clause structure. In particular, I offer an analysis of SVO word order in Nukuoro as involving predicate fronting and object shift (e.g. Massam 2001), followed by movement of the subject to the high left periphery. This analysis then bears on the treatment of Nukuoro genitive relative clauses (GRCs): I claim that left-peripheral subjects are high enough to escape the CP phase, resulting in genitive case assignment to pre-verbal subjects. The second half of this dissertation centers around ergativity in Nukuoro, which involves exponents of the well-known Polynesian *-Cia suffix. Nukuoro is typologically unusual in that it shows an ergative extraction restriction, but lacks morphological ergative and absolutive case marking; furthermore, I argue that Nukuoro clause structure does not involve movement of the transitive object to a position higher than the subject (i.e., object inversion), which runs counter to standard analyses of syntactic ergativity (e.g., Coon et al. 2014). Building on case discrimination analyses of syntactic ergativity (Otsuka 2006, 2010a; Deal 2017b), I analyze the Nukuoro ergative extraction restriction as a composite Ā probe (e.g., Coon & Bale 2014; Colley & Privoznov 2020; Scott 2021), which seeks an Ā feature and an absolutive Case feature on the same goal. Additionally, using evidence from licensing in non-finite clauses, I develop a theory of Case in Nukuoro where both ergative and absolutive are structural Cases, with ergative assigned by Infl (e.g., Levin & Massam 1985; Bobaljik 1993; Laka 1993; Otsuka 2000; Rezac et al. 2014). The Nukuoro pattern thus carries implications for theories of ergativity, as well as for theories of movement and Case more broadly.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007760
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Doctoral thesis
keywords: ergativity, ergative extraction, case, clause structure, genitive relative clauses, polynesian, nukuoro, syntax, morphology, syntax
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