We discuss a novel generalization concerning noun incorporation in polysynthetic languages (principally Northern Iroquoian) and non-canonical objects in Chinese ('He eats restaurants,' meaning roughly 'He eats at restaurants.'). It is observed that these two phenomena share many traits. They are both subject to idiosyncratic meanings and reduced compositionality, and are restricted to the same set of elements. Specifically, they are restricted to themes, instruments, locatives, and temporals. Comitatives, recipients, and benefactives cannot be incorporated or appear as non-canonical objects. It is this last point that we concentrate on here. We propose that this property arises from the Case properties of these two languages. In a nutshell, accusative Case is restricted to themes; however, undifferentiated abstract Case in Chinese can appear with a much wider set of elements. Thus, non-canonical objects cannot appear in English or Northern Iroquoian. Incorporated objects do not bear Case, so they can appear with the same set of elements as non-canonical objects in Chinese.
Proceedings of the 30th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Nathan Arnett and Ryan Bennett
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