Chapter 2: fi insertion in Tunisian Arabic

2.8. Conclusions

A direct object in Tunisian occurs in overt syntax in two possible forms: unmarked or preceded by the element fi. This chapter deals with three types of contexts in which the insertion of aspectual fi appears to correlate with the structure of the sentence and with the morphological properties of the verbs involved, namely: progressive sentences, SVCs and causativized stative predicates.

The particle fi in Tunisian plays other functions beside its object marking one; primarily it is a locative preposition expressing central coincidence, just like the preposition fi found in all other Arabic varieties; the same particle is also used to Case license the object of a deverbal noun whenever other noun-specific licensing strategies are not available (i.e. the construct state). In this latter use the element fi recalls the use of the preposition of in the cases referred as of-insertion, in the sense that fi behaves like a dummy preposition which licenses a noun in the structure without providing the sentence with the specific semantic contribution.

Aspectual fi too is semantically vacuous and does not interact with the semantics of the DP that it precedes. Unlike DOM, in fact, fi marking does not appear in conjunction with nominal phrases of sharing identifiable interpretative properties. Moreover, it is not merged in syntax in association with a specific thematic role, nor is it subcategorized by a verb, but, rather it appears to alternate with prepositions which are associated to a verb in the lexicon.

As for the contexts in which aspectual fi does not occur, we see that perfective morphology as well as future beš are not fi-inserting contexts, although with the noticeable exception of perfective causativized stative verbs. Non-finite sentential complements introduced by beš require unmarked objects and this includes the sentential complement of modal verbs. Imperfective verbs occur also in generic sentences and the generic interpretation is only available in the presence of an unmarked object.

Moving to the constructions in which aspectual fi occurs, progressive sentences are the paradigmatic contexts for aspectual fi insertion. Progressive aspect is encoded by constructions involving the participle qāʕed, derived from the verb of position qaʕada ‘to sit’. Progressive qāʕed can be deleted at PF thanks to the presence of fi which allows the retrieval of the relevant interpretation. Past progressive aspect can be expressed by means of a periphrasis which includes a past auxiliary and progressive qāʕed, while Tunisian does not have a morphosyntactic device for the expression of future progressive.

Aspectual fi is also found in SVCs. These are constructions in which two verbs, both understood as lexical verbs, form a complex together. I chose the label SVCs for Tunisian since constructions of the type discussed in this dissertation respond well to many of the diagnostics for SVC-hood proposed by Cleary-Kemp (2015); importantly, however, I am not claiming that Tunisian SVCs must be necessarily analyzed as SVCs in Koro, the Sino-Tibetan language object of her study. The question to what extent Koro SVCs and Tunisian SVCs resemble each other is an interesting one, but it definitely is beyond the scope of my dissertation.

SVCs only allow a restricted class of verbs or, more appropriately, classes of verbs, in V1

position, and they are: motion verbs, position verbs and aspectual verbs. The embedded object of an SVC is fi marked whenever V1 occurs in the perfective or participial form and V2 is imperfective. SVCs can derive a metaphorical interpretation in which position or motion are translated from the spatial domain to the temporal domain resulting in the expression of aspect.

This metaphorical interpretation is lost if a coordinator or a complementizer are inserted in between the two verbs suggesting that we are dealing with monoclausal constructions. Other characteristic properties of Tunisian SVCs are discussed in the section.

The third and last context of aspectual fi insertion object of this study are the sentences whose verb is a causativized stative predicate. The properties displayed by these verbs, namely: stativity, perfective morphology and causativization are necessary but not independently sufficient for the insertion of aspectual fi which is indeed found only whenever the three properties co-occur at the same time. A signature property of this construction is that only one of the two direct arguments, i.e. the theme, must be fi marked.

The three contexts discussed in this chapter and in the reminder of the thesis in all probability do not represent the full range of contexts in which aspectual fi occurs. Other contexts of use, however, seem to be less common, given that they are rarely mentioned in the literature and, possibly, they can be subsumed under the analysis I propose. For reasons of time, however, this dissertation will not deal with cases of aspectual fi insertion which cannot be traced back to one of the three cases listed above.

"[W]e systematically find that there are functional projections for aspect, deixis and complementiser elements in the extended projections of V, N, and also P."

(Den Dikken 2010, 26)

Chapter 3

fi insertion and non-canonical Case

3.1. Introduction: types of fi

The analysis of fi-marked objects in Tunisian requires the observation of this phenomenon from two angles: from the marked object “upward” to the outer domain responsible, or indirectly responsible, for its insertion, and “downward” to the minimal syntactic domain containing the marked object itself.

This chapter focuses on the latter and tackles issues like the position where fi merges its categorial identity and the identity of the projection defining the minimal syntactic domain in which it occurs. In the chapters after this, the analysis will expand upward and address the relation between the insertion of aspectual fi and structures in which it occurs.

As illustrated by the data presented in the preceding chapter, there appears to be more than one fi, or more than one use of fi in Tunisian. First, at least in certain contexts fi is a preposition with a clear locative value and, as such, it heads a PP. Locative fi behaves as other prepositions do; it introduces locative adjuncts or locative arguments depending on the thematic structure of the predicate to which it is associated. This preposition denotes central coincidence and it is comparable in many respects to the English preposition ‘in’.

Second, the particle fi occurs between a deverbal noun and a DP interpreted as its argument.

This use of fi recalls the phenomenon referred in English as of-insertion and is restricted to the cases in which the DP argument cannot occur in a construct state, which is a Case licensing configuration proper of the nominal domain found in Semitic languages. I refer to this use of fi as

“dummy”, because in the mentioned contexts the particle is devoid of any interpretative property and its presence appears to be triggered only by a syntactic requirement.

Third, the item fi can occur before the direct object of a transitive predicate in constructions of three types, namely: progressive sentences, SVCs and sentences whose verb is a causativized stative predicate in the perfective form. Since many of the constructions involving the insertion of fi before a direct object appear to be involved in the expression of some aspectual distinction, I refer to this kind of fi as “aspectual”.

Chapter 3 aims at assessing the nature of this last usage of fi which represents a non-trivial task due to the hybrid syntactic properties, halfway between a preposition and a Case marker, that it displays.

Previous works describing the aspectual use of Tunisian fi, see for instance McNeil (2017) and Ritt-Benmimoun (2017), propose that fi itself conveys aspect. The argument put forward in support of this claim is the strong correlation existing between progressive aspect and fi (c.f.

chapter 2 section 1). In what follows, I will bring evidence against this claim and propose that the association between aspect and fi is causal in syntax and incidental at the semantic level. One piece of evidence that I will bring in support of my analysis is, precisely, the availability of a dummy fi, in which the syntactic function prevails to the detriment of its semantic contribution.

The analysis sketched above is in apparent contrast with the fact that in this work I retain the label “aspectual” for those instances of fi that occur in the constructions mentioned earlier. This naming choice, however, serves two purposes: it allows to distinguish this type of fi from the locative and the dummy type and it preserves the idea that there exists a relation between certain aspectual specifications and the presence of the item at stake. This relation, however, will not yet be explored in this chapter.

Section 2 frames briefly this research in the line of research referred to as Cartography.

Section 3.3 explains possible ways to look at the relation of aspectual fi insertion, namely the unmediated approach, whereby aspectual fi is assumed to determine the aspectual interpretation of a sentence and the mediated, approach, whereby aspect fi insertion is seen as a consequence of certain aspectual properties of the sentence in which it occurs. The latter is the one I adopted.

Section 4 explores and discards possible ways to decline the unmediated approach to aspectual fi insertion. Section 5 is a short interlude on the syntactic structure of place prepositions and locative prepositions in general. Based on the adopted model, in section 6 I will illustrate that aspectual fi is best analyzed as a preposition although it does not project a full-blown extended projection.

Section 7 presents some arguments in support of a reduced analysis of aspectual fi and illustrates the reason why it is preferable to assume that aspectual fi is a base generated above the DP that appears to be its complement instead of assuming a probing approach in the style of Kayne (2004) proposal. Section 8 is the conclusive section.

3.2. The Cartography of Syntactic Structures

The Cartography of Syntactic structure, a.k.a. Cartography, is a line of research started in the early nineties aiming at mapping syntactic configurations in as much detail as possible (Cinque and Rizzi 2010b; Rizzi and Cinque 2016). The question that Cartography aims to answer is what the correct map for natural language syntax is.

A large amount of studies pertaining to all the levels of the syntactic structure, and many different linguistic families, address this question, resulting in a body of literature brought together by methodological concerns, heuristic principles and the central hypotheses of generative grammar1.

1 An extensive review of the body of Cartographic literature produced until the 2018 can be found on the website of the SynCart ERC project.

The core idea behind Cartographic research is that language presents unique types of building blocks systematically consisting of a low lexical level, i.e. a structural layer projected by a lexical category, and a series of functional projections devoted to the expression of “abstract semantic specifications” (Cinque and Rizzi 2010b, 45). In addition to this, Cartography assumes that the X’ theory extends to all projections, lexical and functional, going beyond a symmetry that applies only to the functional elements of the sentence, i.e. CP – IP – VP, as proposed by Chomsky (1986a). A concrete application of this principle is Abney’s ante litteram (1987) proposal on the structure of the DP.

Thus, Cartography adopts an elementary unit for structure building, i.e. X’ scheme, underlying the organization of the phrasal blocks. Every lexical category is dominated by some structure devoted to the computation of functional material and this structure is composed by sequences of simple X’ units. Cartography, in fact, assumes that each projection is devoted to the expression of a single feature, according to the principle that Samo (2018) summarizes as “one feature, one head”, meaning that a projection must have at most one head, and every head expresses at most one feature (Kayne 1994; Cinque and Rizzi 2010b).

Cartography takes uniformity, intended in the sense of Chomsky (1999), as its basic axiom;

consequently, the functional structure of each phrase type is a domain of projections whose ordering and type are, by hypothesis, universal. Therefore, on the one hand Cartography aims at mapping the complete inventory of the functional projections composing each phrasal domain and, on the other, aims at establishing the order in which the various projections occur.

A consequence of this approach is that the syntactic projections traditionally postulated by Chomsky (1986a), i.e. CP , IP, VP, in Cartographic terms are considered as placeholders for complex clusters of rigidly ordered projections. This is the line of research inaugurated by Pollock (1989) with the split-IP hypothesis, and pursued successively for the CP domain, the sentence

“left periphery”, by Rizzi (1997).

As for the mechanisms of syntactic computations, Cartography and Minimalism share the principle that structure building can be reduced to the basic operation of Merge, which allows the combinatorial properties of language, and a searching operation which identifies the candidates for the operation of Merge. Cartography, however, allows the simple computational apparatus to generate complex structure involving a rich inventory of features, a.k.a. projections.

The mapping of syntactic structure is an ongoing endeavor and, moreover, the strongest cartographic approach makes the elaboration of final syntactic hierarchies virtually inaccessible since, as Cinque and Rizzi explain (2010b):

“if some language provides evidence for the existence of a particular functional head (and projection), then that head (and projection) must be present in every other language, whether the language offers overt evidence for it or not.” (ibid. p 47)

Consequently, the universal hierarchy is susceptible to additional refinements, whenever new data is considered.

My research will give some small contribution to this quest but, mostly, will adopt the cartographic representation of the syntactic structure as a tool, building on previous works. The topic addressed in this chapter will lead us to discuss prepositional structures and nominal phrases;

while I will discuss the vP domain, the inflectional one and the left periphery of non-finite

sentences in the next one. I will refer to the works I assume as background for my analysis as I approach the relevant topic.

3.3. The unmediated and mediated approach to aspectual fi insertion.

Aspectual fi occurs prototypically before the direct object of a construction expressing progressive aspect2. What I mean by “prototypical” is that native speakers themselves propose that aspectual fi encodes progressive aspect when they are asked to explain why aspectual fi is added before a direct object or what contribution it brings to the overall meaning of the sentence.

The frequent association between progressive aspect and aspectual fi is probably behind the proposal put forward by some authors that aspectual fi is itself the morphological device used in overt syntax for the expression of progressive aspect (Saddour 2010; McNeil 2017) or of several grammatical aspectual distinctions (Ritt-Benmimoun 2017). I refer to this family of proposals as the “unmediated” approach to aspectual fi insertion.

For instance, McNeil (2017) suggests that “the transitive progressive marker fi is an obligatory part of the aspectual system in Tunisian Arabic” (ibid. p. 27), while Ritt-Benmimoun (2017) states in her accurate description of aspectual fi distribution in Southern Tunisian that fi

“formally is an object marker” although “semantically it provides its preceding verb with several different aspects” (ibid. p. 38).

The rationale behind the unmediated approaches is the following: the presence of aspectual fi patterns with certain aspectually marked interpretations; this means that there must be a connection between aspect and the presence of this element. In the unmediated approach, the connection is thought to be a direct one, meaning that fi is considered the morphological exponent of an aspectual head located somewhere in the syntactic structure and that thanks to this fi is directly responsible for the aspectual interpretation of the sentence.

On the one hand McNeil’s or Ritt-Benmimoun’s standpoint on the nature of aspectual fi coherently reflects the intuition of native speakers who tend to associate aspectual fi with the expression of progressive aspect. For instance, my informants proposed that aspectual fi “means”

that the action denoted by the preceding predicate is in progress at reference time. Considerations of this type, admittedly, make plausible the hypothesis that aspectual fi encodes progressive aspect. On the other hand, however, a closer look at the relevant facts on aspectual fi reveals that the equation: progressive aspect = fi is problematic when translated into a formal framework.

Section 3.4 tackles the critical aspects of the approaches that assume: progressive aspect at the sentence level = fi, and in that section I will explore, evaluate and discard various possible ways to implement the mentioned approach in a Cartographic framework. None of the proposed solutions, however, stands the confrontation with the available empirical data, leading to the conclusion that the phenomenon of aspectual fi insertion is not adequately explained by any unmediated approach in spite of its appealing simplicity.

2 As discussed in chapter 2 (cf. section 6 and 7), progressive sentences are not the only context in which aspectual fi is systematically merged. The present chapter, however, does not deal with the syntactic triggers of aspectual fi insertion, but rather with what aspectual fi phrases are. Consequently, for explanatory reasons, this chapter will mostly present examples of the progressive type.

Consequently, from section 6 and in the rest of the dissertation, I will present and support the complementary hypothesis, namely the assumption that the relation between the expression of aspect and the insertion of aspectual fi is indirect or “mediated” by a third factor, meaning that aspectual fi insertion is triggered by a structural property shared by certain syntactic configurations, including progressive sentences.

This approach is put forward by Brahim (2007) too. Although he does not argue for it in detail, Brahim proposes that the insertion of aspectual fi should be regarded as a “morphosyntactic fact” (ibid. p. 102), which is triggered by the aspectual properties of the predicate. In my understanding, aspectual fi insertion is a morphosyntactic fact because it does not encode a single feature, but depends on a concomitance of two unrelated properties, i.e. a structural condition which I will discuss in detail in chapter 4 and 5, and the presence of a direct object.

Hence, a mediated approach to aspectual fi insertion treats the particle fi as the morphological byproduct of an independent syntactic requirement which can correlate in certain cases with the progressive interpretation. My claim is that such independent properties should be identified as Case licensing and section 6 will discuss extensively this proposal by illustrating that fi is best categorized as a lexical preposition which checks oblique case on a direct object, replacing accusative Case which is canonically assigned in other syntactic contexts. The relation between Case and aspect, conversely, will be addressed in chapter 4.

3.4. The unmediated approaches to aspectual fi insertion 3.4.1. Aspectual fi as Asp°

The unmediated approach to aspectual fi insertion assumes that the particle fi is itself a morphological device for the expression of aspect at the sentence level, as in (1):

(1) semi yedhen fī dār žirēn-ū

Semi paint.imp prog house neighbors-his

‘Semi is painting his neighbors’ house’

I will explore this hypothesis in this subsection adopting a Cartographic representation of the syntactic structure as discussed in section 3.2. According to Cinque (1999) aspect is computed by means of devoted projections located in the inflectional domain. Under the assumption that

I will explore this hypothesis in this subsection adopting a Cartographic representation of the syntactic structure as discussed in section 3.2. According to Cinque (1999) aspect is computed by means of devoted projections located in the inflectional domain. Under the assumption that

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