Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
Movement in syntax: a view from the Mayan languages
Natural languages show “movement effects”, where a syntactic constituent seems to be understood in more than one position, for example as the object of a verb like ‘see’ and as the question word at the beginning of the sentence ‘Who did Mary see _?’. In many theories of syntax, this movement is argued to proceed in a succession of short steps (Chomsky 1972, et seq). This proposal becomes especially relevant when movement appears to span a long distance, as in ‘Who did John say [ _ that Mary saw _ ]?’, where the intermediate _ is meant to indicate a step in the movement path. An interesting empirical question is whether some languages display easily detectable evidence for these short steps, unlike languages like English. In this talk, I first review the initial motivation for this theoretical position. I then present a case study using data from two Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala: Kaqchikel and K’iche’. I argue that question-formation in these languages adds to the growing body of evidence, coming from syntax, phonology, and semantics, that supports the existence of shorter, intermediate movement steps. I end by exploring how our results have additional consequences that help refine our understanding of the precise nature of these movement effects in the grammar.