Polinsky colloquium

January 22
Rosenwald 405
Harvard University
Subject/object symmetry and its consequences: Niuean

This paper presents an analysis of a longstanding issue in Austronesian: in a family where extraction is so famously restricted to subjects, why does the Polynesian language Niuean so freely allow extraction of objects as well? We summarize existing data and offer novel data in support of the general empirical finding that Niuean treats its subjects and objects identically and separates them from all other constituents. Furthermore, we show that several possible asymmetries are not problematic for this conclusion. We consider and reject the analysis of Niuean as a non-configurational language (along the lines of Aranovich’s analysis which accounts for Fijian in a comprehensive and predictive way). We then develop an analysis of the subject-object symmetry based on the formalization of equidistance in the context of V-raising (and not VP-raising, normally assumed for Niuean). The technical formalization of equidistance allows us to develop new ideas concerning labelling and extraction. We use this analysis to argue that Niuean is not unique and propose cross-linguistic properties that conspire in such a way that subject-object symmetry arises.