The prosody of verb-initial languages
- My dissertation addresses the problem of verb-initial word order (V1) from the perspective of prosody. Drawing primarily from Niuean (Polynesian) data, I argue that VOS can arise in an otherwise VSO language in order to satisfy a prosodic well-formedness constraint, which I call the Argument Condition on Phonological Phrasing. I also discuss the benefits of assuming that V1 word order in Niuean is always derived by head raising, even in VOS structures.
- Jessica Coon and I replicated the Niuean study for Ch'ol (Mayan), where we find that the verb and the object form a prosodic constituent in VOS structures. We've developed a head raising account of Ch'ol V1 that is consistent with morpheme order in the verb stem, the distribution of preverbal arguments, and VSO/VOS alternations in Ch'ol. We are now working on connecting the availability of VOS and the way roots become affiliated with particular lexical class, cross-linguistically.
Experimental work on Mayan languages
- Together, affiliates of Maria Polinsky's lab (including Jessica Coon, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Adam Milton Morgan, and Matt Wagers) conducted a wide-scale study of the processing of relative clauses in two ergative languages, Ch’ol (Tumbalá) and Q’anjob’al, where we find evidence for a subject processing advantage in both of these ergative languages.
- Cora Lesure and I have been investigating the acoustic correlates of prosodic constituency in Ch'ol. We have found evidence that stem-final and word-final sonorants (especially in phrase-final position) are realized with creaky voice. We argue that creaky voice can be used as a diagnostic for distinguishing prosodic clitics from affixes.
- Jessica Coon, Carol-Rose Little, Morelia Vázquez Martínez, and I are studying the interaction between focus movement and the prosodic encoding of focus in Ch'ol (Tila and Tumbalá). We are in the process of analyzing naturalistic data from ~3o speakers. Our experimental materials include illustrations by Blare Coughlin, which you are free to use with credit to Blare.
Other collaborative projects
- Rebecca Tollan and I are developing an account of case in Tongan and Niuean (two closely related members of the Tongic Branch of Polynesian), which relies on an absolutive inversion approach to case assignment to explain why Tongan (but not Niuean) displays syntactic ergativity and why Tongan (but not Niuean) allows both VSO and VOS in fully transitive clauses.
- Handout: Tollan and Clemens (2016)
- Fellow University at Albany linguist, Lee Bickmore, and I are studying the distribution of high tones in the Bantu language Rutooro. We have found interesting parallels between the prosodic phrasing in the clausal and nominal domains, and that the distribution of the high tone offers a window into the syntactic structure of Rutooro's relative clauses.
- Poster: Bickmore and Clemens (2016)
- In a paper on irregular plurals in French and Brazilian Portuguese, Michael Becker, Andrew Nevins, and I investigate two irregular morphophonological alternations and their application to novel forms. In both cases, we find monosyllabic items are less likely to alternate than polysyllabic items. We argue a discrete grammatical distinction accounts for these findings better than continuous variables from phonetics or lexical statistics.