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Licensing of Floating Nominal Modifiers and Unaccusativity in Japanese
Shin Fukuda and Maria Polinsky
189-198 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Licensing of VP-internal floating nominal modifiers (FNMs), including numeral quantifiers, has been used as a diagnostic test for unaccusativity in Japanese, under the assumption that FNMs and their associates must be in a local syntactic relation at their base-generated positions. Thus, unaccusative subjects, which originate as internal arguments, readily license VP-internal FNMs, but unergative subjects, which are base-generated external arguments, often fail to license FNMs. However, the licensing of VP-internal FNMs also seems to depend on the type of event denoted by a given sentence, since unergative subjects can license VP-internal FNMs if the sentence denotes a telic event. In this paper, we confirm that the licensing of FNMs is subject to syntactic locality. In addition to the syntactic factors, the licensing of FNMs is sensitive to (i) the derivational complexity of the sentence and (ii) the lexical semantics of the modifiers themselves. When locality and the two additional factors are in harmony, sentences are perfectly acceptable, but when the factors pull in different directions, this leads to graded judgments and speaker variation. The main evidence for this claim comes from the results of two formal acceptability judgment experiments with a set of nominal modifiers such as nani-ka 'something' and dare-ka 'someone' (existential indeterminate pronouns). The results of these experiments show that the licensing of such expressions, just like the licensing of VP-internal FNQs, is affected by the derivational complexity of the sentence. However, existential indeterminate pronouns and FNQs respond to different lexical-semantic factors: the former are sensitive to the animacy of the host NPs, whereas FNQs are sensitive to the event type semantics.

Published in

Proceedings of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Robert E. Santana-LaBarge
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00