Structure and position of fi arguments

Dans le document Event building, selection and non-canonical Case: fi insertion in Tunisian Arabic (Page 135-0)

Chapter 3: fi insertion and non-canonical Case

3.7. Structure and position of fi arguments

The empirical data presented in the course of the chapter illustrates that aspectual fi unlike its locative prepositional counterpart does not display clear substantive content; at the same time, however, it behaves in syntax like other prepositional elements. Like other prepositions aspectual fi assigns oblique Case to its complement DP, it occurs in complementary distribution with other prepositions (e.g. the case of ʕala ‘on’, discussed in section 3.6.1) and, finally, it prevents further cliticization of an object pronoun onto the verb, illustrating that aspectual fi projects a domain which is independent from the verb and contains the following nominal phrase.

We thus face the problem that aspectual fi should be categorized as a member of the prepositional class, according to its syntactic properties; while, at the same time, the lack of locative lexical content indicates that it must not be considered a member of the prepositional class with full rights. In this last section of the chapter, therefore, I propose a possible way to solve the issue just outlined, abandoning a functional/lexical dichotomy of prepositions in favor of an approach that allows the members of this class to occur on a continuum that extends between the two poles. The idea is to implement this idea on the basis of the Cartographic structure discussed in section 3.5, assuming that the a preposition does not need to spell out the entire extended projection but it can occur in syntax with a reduced functional structure and potentially with no functional structure at all as also proposed by Den Dikken (2010).

Recall that in the structure I adopted (i.e. Den Dikken 2010), prepositions expressing location present three functional layers in their extended projection; these projections reflect the organization of the main domains found at the clausal and the nominal domain which include:

first, a CP(PLACE)layer corresponding where discourse oriented movement takes place; second, a DxP(PLACE)devoted to deictic relations of tense, person and, in the case of prepositions, space and, third, an aspectual layer where un/boundedness is expressed, i.e. AspP(PLACE).

According to the author, a preposition assigns Case when it minimally includes the lowest functional layer of the prepositional functional domain; I adopt this assumption and propose that

Tunisian aspectual fi is a preposition which spells out its extended projection up to the AspP(PLACE)

projection. Hence, aspectual fi corresponds to the structure in (102):

(102) AspP(PLACE)

 Asp’


Asp° PP






I follow Den Dikken (o.c.) and assume that Case is checked by a functional head and that both prepositions and verbs present an aspectual functional head in their extended functional domain responsible for the licensing of Case on their complement.

Marked fi objects, as said earlier, assign non-canonical oblique Case on a DP which occurs in direct object position. In this respect unmarked accusative objects and fi marked ones are in complementary distribution, meaning that the same accusative argument can check accusative Case via the verb or oblique Case via aspectual fi, depending on the syntactic context in which it occurs.

I assume accusative to be the canonical realization of Case on the direct object, since it occurs in a larger range of contexts than oblique does, i.e. aspectual fi. Aspectual fi, in contrast, occurs in a limited set of constructions which I reduced to three main types, namely progressive sentences, SVCs and perfective sentences in which the main predicate is a causativized stative verb.

Based on these considerations, my hypothesis is that fi-marked arguments occur in syntactic positions where accusative Case cannot be checked. I will discuss this approach more in detail in the following chapter and argue that the unavailability of accusative Case is a condition that occurs in syntax and is due to the presence of an intervening element. In this section, conversely, I am interested in what happens in the local domain where fi is merged and I want to propose that aspectual fi insertion occurs locally, meaning that aspectual fi is base generated above a targeted DP as a last resort operation to rescue the derivation from a potential infelicitous output due to the unavailability of canonical Case checking.

This is essentially the mechanism proposed by several authors to account for the phenomenon defined as ‘of-insertion’ in English (Chomsky 1986b; Harley and Noyer 1998) and, incidentally, fi is also used in the licensing of nominal arguments, as discussed already in chapter 2 (section 2.2). The licensing of a nominal argument occurs in Tunisian via two possible strategies: the construct state or via the insertion of dummy fi. The construct state is the default strategy and it allows the licensing of both arguments of a transitive deverbal but only as long as they are realized one at a time. See (103) and (104):

(103) qrāyet muḥammad reading Mohammed

‘Mohammad’s reading.’

(104) qrāyet l-qurān reading the-Quran

‘The Quran’s reading.’

(Adapted from Brahim 2007, 99)

In order to realize both the subject, i.e the agent, and object, i.e. the patient, of the deverbal noun at the same time Tunisian resorts to the insertion of dummy fi, since the construct state configuration can only Case license one argument due to the structure that it underlies, see Shlonsky (2012) for a detailed explanation. Whenever the two arguments are realized in the same phrase, dummy fi licenses the Case of the object argument, as shown by (105):

(105) tarbyet-ha fi-awlēd-ha education-her fi-children-her

‘Her education of the children.’

(Brahim, Ahmed 2007 (16)a )

Arguments of nouns licensed by a preposition are referred to as prepositional genitives (Gianollo 2009; 2012). Genitive arguments are heterogeneous from a syntactic point of view but unlike other Cases genitive is assigned within the nominal domain. As Longobardi (2001) proposes:

“The most salient Case-theoretic property of nominal constructions is the crosslinguistically frequent contrast between Case realization of both S[ubjects]

and O[objects] with nouns and in clauses. In other words, many languages tend to use a special Case, Genitive, normally the same employed to express P[ossessor], for the arguments of nouns whose verbal thematic correspondents bear Nominative and Accusative” (ibid. p 565).

Thus, given this Case-theoretic property of nominal constructions, I do not wish to say that arguments marked by aspectual fi and arguments marked by dummy fi have identical properties, but rather, I want to propose that they underlie the same type of structure, meaning an augmented structure where a prepositional layer dominates the DP, in the spirit of by Bayer et al.’s (2001) analysis of dative and genitive arguments in German.

Hence, I suggest that prepositional Genitives and oblique arguments licensed by aspectual fi are coincidentally similar, with the two relations that happened to be expressed by the same preposition. This identity, in effect, is not necessary, as clearly illustrated by another Arabic variety, i.e. Jordanian, where the verbal object marking function, i.e. the preposition equivalent to aspectual fi, and the nominal object marking function, i.e. the preposition equivalent to dummy fi, are performed by two different elements of the prepositional class. Consider the following examples:

(106) samīr bi-yalbas bi-l-badle Samir mood-wear.imp bi-the-suit

‘Samir is wearing the suit.’

(Mitchell and al Hassan 1994, 93) (107) taʕlim-ha li/la-ṭulab-ha

teaching-her of-students-her

‘Her teaching of her students.’

(Nouman Malkawi, personal communication)

Example (106) illustrates that the verbal object marking function in Jordanian is performed by the preposition -bi, while (107) shows that the object of a noun is licensed by the preposition li/la (depending on the regional dialect). Given that Jordanian relies on two distinct forms used in two distinct contexts, there is no ground to assume that we are dealing with the same phenomenon, although we can maintain a similar approach for the two domains. Thus, I will maintain that Tunisian prepositional Genitives and fi marked objects can be subsumed under a similar analysis whereby an additional prepositional layer is base generated in the structure to license Case.

A further element of similarity between the nominal and the verbal domain is the fact that Tunisian displays limited instances of an “aspectual” reading of dummy fi. These constructions result in an intensifying interpretation of the predicate and are limited to noun phrases occurring in predicative position. Consider the examples in (108)a-b:

(108) a. el-mrāzīg rabbāyet-bill

the-Mrazig Ø breeder-dromedaries

‘The Mrazig are breeders of dromedaries.’

b. el-mrāzīg rabbāyet fī-l-bill

the-Mrazig Ø breeder fi-the-dromedaries

‘The Mrazig are great breeders of dromedaries.’

(Brahim 2007, 100: (18)b-c)

The examples in (108)a-b illustrate that a prepositional genitive licensed by aspectual fi corresponds to an intensive interpretation of the sentence as in ‘great breeders’, while the object licensed by means of the construct state occurs in sentences where the intensive meaning is absent.

In this respect Tunisian recalls the pluractional use of fi described by Ouhalla for Moroccan Arabic (2015b) and the intensive use of fi illustrated by Woidich (2006) for Egyptian Arabic.

A thorough comparative analysis of these varieties is beyond the scope of this research;

however, I think that the availability of a pluractional/intensive interpretation of dummy fi arguments suggests that this preposition too should be considered as topped by an aspectual projection which allows it to encode unboundedness on the nominal domain. Unboundedness in (108)b does not translate to the duration of the event which is already unbound, but rather it appears to indicate the abnormal frequency, ability, effectiveness with which the event described by the deverbal noun is carried out: they are great breeders because they can have their animals breed over and over again.

Aspectual and dummy fi both license Case on their complement. Den Dikken (2010) suggests that Case checking prepositions must project at least the first layer of their extended

domain. This layer is an aspectual layer where the bounded/unbounded opposition is expressed and the intensive/pluractional use of dummy fi suggests that this feature may be realized on nouns be virtue of its insertion11. In the following chapter, I will illustrate that aspectual fi can also be traced back to the realization of aspectual content, although I will maintain that this aspectual feature is not the trigger of the interpretation but a necessary consequence of the position where a DP occurs in the structure, i.e. the mediated approach.

Under the assumption that nominal arguments require their Case to be licensed by an external functional head, therefore, I assume that objects marked in contexts where aspectual fi is merged are objects which cannot have their Case licensed via the common structural mechanism that licensed unmarked accusative Case. Therefore, they are inserted in the structure as prepositional phrases of the AspP(PLACE) type because this is the lowest Case assigning layer made available by the universal functional spine of prepositions.

There are two conclusive points that I would like to mention. Besides the adoption of Den Dikken’s (o.c.) approach according to which Case is licensed by an aspectual functional head, there are other considerations that lead me to assume that aspectual fi is not a simple PP. The issue I have in mind is whether a lexical item can indeed belong to any class before merging with a functional projection. The existence of languages like English which do not systematically distinguish between lexical classes in the lexicon is a central argument in favor of theories which consider primary merge restricted to “the merger of an unlabeled lexical root with a categorizing functional head” (Rizzi 2016, 107). According to this principle, lexical entries, thus by extension prepositions too, are not categorized until they are matched with a functional projection (Borer 2003; Chomsky 2013; 2015; Marantz 2013 among many others). Thus, we can hypothesize that a preposition which does not license Case because it does not project any layer of the extended projection of prepositional phrases is not yet a preposition but, rather, is an underspecified lexical item open to “become” something and, possibly, something else. For instance, the same element can merge in the structure as a preposition, if it merges with AspP(PLACE), or as a Case morpheme if merged with the adequate functional projection, i.e. KP in the system assumed here. Thus, tentatively I will propose that all prepositions heading a prepositional phrase project at least AspP(PLACE).

Finally, the second point I would like to make is that prepositional elements are often seen as syntactic objects which can display an increasing level of complexity which pattern an increase in the definition of their interpretative properties, so that a place PP is the simple base on which more complex directional prepositions, i.e. moving from that place towards a destination, are built (e.g. Koopman 2003; Pantcheva 2009; Den Dikken 2010; Cinque and Rizzi 2010a).

I adopt this view and suggest that aspectual fi does not project a fully-fledged prepositional structure all the way to the CP(PLACE) since it does not display the entire gamut of features that the equivalent place preposition, i.e. locative fi, displays. For instance, unlike its locative counterpart, aspectual fi lacks the deictic properties which allow it to determine whether the phrase is anchored

11 I do not have a concrete proposal to put forward about the lack of aspectual interpretation of dummy fi in contexts where this element is added to a nominal structure with the sole purpose of licensing Case, i.e.

examples like (105). One possibility is to assume that in cases like this the preposition is more complex and spells out more of the prepositional extended functional structure.

to the temporal or spatial domain; hence, by hypothesis it lacks the appropriate functional projections too.

3.7.2. Prepositions as Probes

In conclusion of this section I will illustrate the reasons why I do not assume that aspectual fi is directly merged in the structure as the head of a Case licensing projection, which amounts to saying why I do not adopt a syntactic derivation in the spirit of Kayne’s (2004) “preposition as probes” analysis.

Kayne’s proposal addresses the following contrast in French causative constructions:


a. Jean a fait manger Paul

b. Jean a fait manger la tarte à Paul c. *Jean a fait manger Paul la tarte d. *Jean a fait manger la tarte Paul (Kayne 2004, 193; (2-5))

Examples (109)a-d illustrate that the presence of the preposition à is mandatory in French causative constructions and that the direct object must be adjacent to the embedded predicate to the expense of the embedded subject. This suggests that predicate and object remain part of the same constituent throughout the derivation of causative constructions, while the embedded subject does not and belongs to the same constituent as the preceding preposition à.

According to Kayne the French facts just discussed lead to the following conclusions: at least certain prepositions, but potentially all prepositions, merge in a position that dominates both their complement and the head that superficially appears to select the preposition itself. Under this approach, causative à and its complement initially belong to different syntactic domains:

while à merges directly in an Agr° position above the verbal matrix vP, the DP which appears to be its complement at the end of the derivation is first merged in the subject position of a lower infinitival predicate.

Since non-finite verbs do not assign nominative Case to their subject, this complement must move to satisfy its Case requirement. Preposition à performs this task, it licenses this argument in the structure by attracting it to a projection immediately below the one where à itself is merged, a phenomenon that Kayne refers to as the “dativization of the subject of a transitive infinitive”

(ibid. p 193). The final linear order is obtained by a movement of the remnant vP to the specifier of the projection where à occurs.

The issue at stake is whether a derivation of this sort can account for the linear order found in Tunisian examples like (110) and similar ones where aspectual fi occurs:

(110) semi yedhen fī-dār žirēn-ū Semi paint.imp fi-house neighbors-his

‘Semi is painting his neighbors’ house.’

Under this approach aspectual fi should correspond to Kayne’s probing prepositional element, hence it should merge in a functional projection (FP) in the inflectional domain.

Irrelevant details omitted, from this position aspectual fi attracts the DP object to the specifier of a lower functional projection, i.e. XP in (111), and successively, triggers remnant vP movement to a higher specifier position:

(111) [FP [vP yedhen ty] [F° fīj [FP1 [dār žirēn-ū]y [F° … [tvP]]]]]

paint.imp fi house neighbors-his

Adopting such an analysis of Tunisian fi constructions, however, incurs various shortcomings. One of the problems is not specific to Tunisian but rather to Kayne’s approach and has to do with constituency: if aspectual fi and French à merge in the head position of a projection whose specifier is filled by the remnant vP, it is not clear how ex-situ Wh-phrases are derived.

Questions like (112), or the French example in (113) could not be derived unless it is assumed that movement can target not only heads or projections but also the intermediate x’ node:

(112) f-eš (qāʕed ) tekl?

fi-what prog eat.imp

‘What are you eating?’

(113) À qui a-t-il fait manger la tarte ?

Recall that, according to the theory under evaluation, à/fi are heads that attract a DP in the specifier of a position that they immediately dominate and the remnant vP in their own specifier.

Consequently, they belong to the same constituent as the vP, which includes the DP too at a lower level.

Wh-movement requires the probing prepositions and the following DP to move together as a constituent with the exclusion of the vP. This is simply explained under a theory of grammar in which fronted Wh-questions are derived by movement of a constituent to a sentence initial position as assumed since Chomsky (1977); this entails that declarative and interrogative constructions share the same deep structure but not the order in which the units are organized in overt syntax.

This assumption, however, cannot really be maintained if Kayne’s (o.c.) syntactic derivation is adopted unless we either assume that a movement which separates X’ from its maximal projection is legitimate or we postulate several additional movements that allow us to reconstruct the constituency of fi + DP before Wh-movement takes place.

The second order of problems is not intrinsic to Kayne’s theory but to its application to account for the Tunisian constructions that interest us. Specifically, the problem goes back to the availability of more than an aspectual fi in constructions where two direct objects occurs. Recall for instance the case of double object constructions of the give-type discussed in section 3.6.6.

The relevant example is copied in (114) for ease of reference and it illustrates that the two accusative objects become two fi marked objects in a progressive double object construction:

(114) semi (qāʕed) yʕaṭi fī-bū-h fī-l-ktēb Semi prog give.imp fi-father-his fi-the-book

‘Semi is giving his father the book.’

It is not clear how to subsume the analysis of (114) in light of Kayne’s approach since issues pertaining to ordering relations would arise, namely how does the identical preposition attract the correct argument. In addition to this, this type of analysis requires doubling the functional apparatus of the clause spine which appears to have little motivation regardless of the framework adopted.

The repetition of aspectual fi, conversely, recalls the effects of a relation of agreement, whereby the same feature is repeated on multiple heads. Hence, in consideration of the disadvantages that come with the discussed probing analysis, i.e. constituency issues, unmotivated movement complexity and reduplication of functional heads, the present work does not advocate Kayne’s approach.

3.7.3. Recap

The distribution and syntax of prepositions in Tunisian supports the view that a classification of the members of this class which considers them uniformly as functional only or lexical only is

The distribution and syntax of prepositions in Tunisian supports the view that a classification of the members of this class which considers them uniformly as functional only or lexical only is

Dans le document Event building, selection and non-canonical Case: fi insertion in Tunisian Arabic (Page 135-0)