Relatively Speaking (in Circassian) by Ivano Caponigro and Maria Polinsk

Ivano Caponigro and Maria Polinsky
University of California, San Diego and Harvard University

1. Taking things for granted?

It is a standard assumption that subordinate clauses like relative, embedded declarative, and interrogative clauses in natural language vary according to their morphosyntactic and semantic characteristics. Their morphosyntactic variation is expressed in the presence/absence of a wh-word, a relative pronoun, or an overt complementizer; syntactic transparency (embedded declaratives) or opacity (embedded interrogatives and relative clauses); differences in the nature of the complementizer (Rizzi 1990: 45) and differences in the relationship between the embedded clause and the matrix clause (complementation vs. adjunction). These embedded clauses are also assigned very different interpretations. A headed relative like which Adam likes is standardly assumed to denote the set of inanimate individuals that Adam likes (Quine 1960; Montague 1973); a free/headless relative like what Adam likes denotes the (plural) inanimate individual that Adam likes (Jacobson 1995, Caponigro 2004); an embedded declarative like that Adam likes vegetables denotes the proposition 'that Adam likes vegetables'; an embedded polar interrogative like whether Adam likes vegetables denotes a set containing the proposition 'that Adam likes vegetables' and/or its negation 'that Adam does not like vegetables'; finally, an embedded constituent interrogative like which food Adam likes denotes the set of propositions that are appropriate (true) answers to the question 'which food does Adam like?' (see Hamblin 1973 and Karttunen 1977 for the semantics of both types of interrogatives). We present and analyze new empirical evidence suggesting that such morphosyntax/semantics mapping may not be universal. The evidence comes from Adyghe, a Northwest Caucasian language, in which what looks and behaves like the very same morphosyntactic construction (henceforth "mystery clause", MC) is used to convey the five different meanings above. This raises at least two main questions: (i) Is the MC truly one and the same construction and what construction is it? This is the issue this paper focuses on. (ii) How is the same construction mapped into very different meanings? For reasons of space, we cannot address this issue here but the interested reader is referred to Caponigro and Polinsky (to appear). The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 gives a brief background on Adyghe. Section 3 introduces the main morphological and syntactic properties of the MC. Section 4 develops our proposal concerning the syntax of the MC. Section 5 concludes.

Download the full-text document in PDF format.