LF determines (non-)interveners: Two case studies in Kaqchikel (Mayan)

Theodore Levin
(National University of Singapore)

Kaqchikel (K’ichean), like several other Mayan languages, display syntactic ergativity effects – a ban on Ā-movement of the transitive subject:

In (1a), the verb displays 3rd singular absolutive agreement and 3rd singular ergative agreement. The same verb form is employed in (1b) when the object is wh-questioned. However, when the subject is wh-questioned in (1c), the canonical transitive form cannot be used. Rather, a special construction termed Agent Focus, unavailable elsewhere (1b), is employed.

This pattern of syntactic ergativity is attributed to the configuration of ergative-absolutive agreement. The object moves to a position above the subject (Spec-vP/VoiceP) to establish an Agree relationship with T0 (Aldridge 2004, Legate 2008), and acts as an intervener for subsequent Ā-operations that would target the subject (e.g. Coon et al. 2014, Assmann et al. 2015, Levin 2018). Agent Focus renders the subject a viable target for Ā-operations by keeping the object in a hierarchically lower position.

In certain contexts, however, Ā-movement of the transitive subject is exceptionally licit without Agent Focus. In this talk, I focus on two such contexts – extended reflexive (2) and multiple Ā-movement (3) constructions:

In (2), the subject wh-question does not require Agent Focus, because the subject is co-referential with the object’s possessor. In (3), the subject wh-question does not require Agent Focus, because the object has also undergone Ā-movement, forming an indefinite free relative.

I claim that (2-3) provide evidence that LF-interface considerations for chain interpretation are active in syntax. Agent Focus need not (and therefore cannot) be employed in (2-3), because the copy of the object in Spec-vP/VoiceP is not privileged by the LF-interface, and therefore does not act as an intervener. In (2), LF privileges a lower copy of the object, in Compl-V0, for the purposes of binding, rendering the higher copy a non-intervener. In the case of (3), LF privileges a still higher copy of the object, in Spec-CP, for the interpretation of the indefinite free relative, rendering the medial copy a non-intervener.