Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seminar Series: Johansson and Britain

On March 12 (MONDAY), Sara Johansson and Julie Brittain will present their talk on 

"East Cree verbs of emission: A unified analysis of the inchoative (-piyi)"

in SN 3060 from 3:15 to 4:15. All are welcome.


The intransitive verb final -piyi in Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi (CMN) combines with roots to yield both unaccusative and unergative predicates (Hirose, 2003; Brittain, in press); unaccusatives have an internal (patient) argument while unergatives have an external argument. Brittain’s study of ROOT+piyi verbs in Quebec Naskapi identifies three broad semantic classes: (i) spontaneous unaccusatives (80% of data); (ii) unergative “vehicle verbs” (10%); and (iii) verbs of emission (10%), the syntactic status of which was not investigated. Brittain accounts for the fact that -piyi derives both unaccusatives and unergatives by extending to Naskapi Davis & Demirdache's (2000) Event Foregrounding Hypothesis: -piyi suppresses Process and foregrounds State in the Lexical Semantic Representation (LSR) of the root with which it pairs, yielding an unaccusative; -piyi fails to suppress Process if the root bears the feature [spatial], yielding an unergative. Root semantics thus determine the syntactic representation. In this paper, we present new data on verbs of emission in Northern East (NE) Cree, in order to develop a unified account of the entire morphological class of verbs derived by -piyi.[1]

We take verbs of emission to be verbs denoting the emission of sound, light, substance or smell, following Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995), including English examples such as jingle, flash, ooze, and reek. We consider only the subset of NE Cree verbs of emission derived by -piyi. Consistent with Johansson & Ritter's (in press) study of verbs of emission in Blackfoot (Algonquian), we find evidence that these verbs take non-agentive external arguments, or “internal causers” (cf. Harley & Folli 2008, Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995). In other words, the external argument of a verb of emission may be an inanimate entity, but it must have the internal capacity to generate the event: bell can be predicated of the verb ring, but whistle cannot. Verbs of emission constitute a third distinct syntactic class of piyi-derived verb: like unaccusatives, they are incompatible with agent-oriented adverbs such as ûshit 'deliberately' (1). Like unergative vehicle verbs, they are compatible with purpose clauses (2).

(1)     * ushit wî-shashwâwâ-pîyi-u âh    nîmit

purposely desid-jingle-inch-iin.3s pvb dance:cin.3s

Intended: 'She jingles on purpose while she dances.'

(2) kuishkushi-pîyi-u utâpan âh nitûmikuyin

whistle-inch-iin.3s train pvb call.for:cin.2s

'The train whistles for you to come.'


Vehicle verb

Verb of emission

Agent-oriented adverb




Purpose clause




We propose that NE Cree verbs of emission have a non-agentive external argument, as in

Blackfoot (Johansson & Ritter 2008), and suggest that this is because (like vehicle verbs) such roots bear the feature [spatial], resulting in the foregrounding of Process. We take NE Cree as further evidence for the notion of internal cause: both emitters and sentient agents are permissible external arguments as both are internal causers.


2 – 2nd person; 3 – 3rd person; cin – conjunct indicative neutral; desid – desiderative;

iin – independent indicative neutral; inch – inchoative; pvb – preverb; s – singular


Brittain, Julie. In press. Root semantics as a determinant of syntactic representation: Evidence from Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi. In Rand Valentine and Monica Macaulay, eds. Papers of the 42nd Algonquian conference. New York: SUNY Press.

Davis, Henry & Hamida Demirdache. 2000. On lexical verb meanings: Evidence from Salish. In Carol Tenny and James Pustejovsky, eds. Events as grammatical objects: The converging perspectives of lexical semantics and syntax, pp. 97-142. Standford: CSLI.

Folli, Raffaella & Heidi Harley. 2008. Teleology and animacy in external arguments. Lingua 118:190-202.

Hirose, Tomio. 2003. Origins of predicates: Evidence from Plains Cree. New York: Routledge.

Johansson, Sara & Elizabeth Ritter. In press. Determinants of split intransitivity in Blackfoot: Evidence from verbs of emission. In Rand Valentine, ed. Papers of the 40th Algonquian conference. New York: SUNY Press.

Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity: At the syntax-lexical semantics interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Speas, Margaret J. & Carol Tenny. 2003. Configurational properties of point of view roles. In Anna Maria di Scuillo, ed. Asymmetry in grammar, pp. 315-344. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

[1] Note that we re-elicited Brittain's (forthcoming) Naskapi data in NE Cree, and found no departures in speaker judgments across the two dialects.

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