Colloquium Friday January 31: Laura Kalin

Please join us for a colloquium by Laura Kalin (UCLA) in the Greenberg Room at 3:30PM on Friday February 1, followed by a departmental social.

Aspect and Argument-Licensing in Neo-Aramaic

In this talk, I present two empirical puzzles that involve intriguing interactions between aspect and agreement in Neo-Aramaic languages. Verbs in Neo-Aramaic come in several different ‘base’ forms that are built with root-and-template morphology and encode tense, aspect, or mood. The two verb bases of interest here are the imperfective base, for example, qatl (from the verb root q-t-l, ‘kill’), and the perfective base, for example, qtil. Subject and object agreement appear as suffixes on these bases.

The first puzzle I address is the various aspect-based agreement splits seen across Northeastern Neo-Aramaic: the form and configuration of subject and object agreement reverses depending on the aspect of the verb base, with the subject agreement morpheme of one base looking like the object agreement morpheme of the other, and vice versa. I propose that we can make sense of these aspect splits if we allow imperfective aspect itself to license an argument, with agreement being the overt manifestation of this licensing. The second puzzle is a secondary perfective strategy employed in many of these languages, which makes use of the imperfective verb base with an added prefix (qam-, varying phonologically by language). This secondary perfective verb form takes subject and object agreement as though it were imperfective, rather than perfective. I argue that this data reveals that there are two aspectual projections in the syntax, with only the lower aspectual projection determining the form of the verb base.
Finally, I put the two proposals together: If aspect can license an argument, and there are in fact two aspectual projections in the syntax, then I predict that each aspectual projection should be able to license an argument separately. This is precisely what we find in progressives in the Neo-Aramaic language Senaya. Overall, then, my two proposals (aspect as an argument-licenser and the existence of two aspectual projections) are able to capture a range of empirical phenomena in Neo-Aramaic and add to our understanding of the syntactic options provided by Universal Grammar.