I work primarily within formal semantics and syntactic theory, and have broad interests within both of these areas.
A major research interest of mine is plurality, particularly understudied types of plurals like similative plurals. An example of this is m-reduplication in Persian, which has a non-uniform plural interpretation in upward-entailing contexts that is weakened in downward-entailing and non-monotone contexts, as well as in pragmatic contexts establishing speaker ignorance or indifference. A similar phenomenon is observed with the Japanese particles -ya/-toka/-tari. Early work on this topic, done in collaboration with Ryoichiro Kobayashi (Aichi University of Technology) developed an account of the Japanese facts based on alternative semantics, according to which -ya/-toka/-tari introduce alternatives that are operated upon differently according to the semantics of the environment in which they appear, yielding their variable semantic behavior. Work relating to this project has been or will be presented at ConSOLE XXV, GLOW in Asia XI and Sinn und Bedeutung 22, among others. In my single-authored work, I developed an account of m-reduplication in terms of scalar implicature, extended it to the analysis of the Japanese cases discussed above, and presented this work and further refinements of it at the 2018 LSA Annual Meeting , Sinn und Bedeutung 23 in Barcelona, and CLS 55 in Chicago..
My dissertation, Similative Plurals and the Nature of Alternatives, provides a synthesis of these two phenomena, improving on previous analyses in a unified framework while elaborating on the broader theoretical implications of the semantics and pragmatics of similative plurality. In particular, I have argued that an implicature-based account of the non-homogeneous plural inference of similative expressions requires appeal to an abstract alternative, an alternative that does not correspond to any lexical item in the language in question. A journal article on this topic is also under revision.
Decompositional approaches to argument structure
Alongside my colleague Jianrong Yu at the University of Arizona, I have recently begun to undertake research into argument structure, focusing primarily on the interaction of again with quantificational objects with different classes of verbs, building on classic work in the study of the syntax-semantics interface (Morgan 1969; McCawley 1971; Dowty 1971; von Stechow 1996). This work argues that causatives and inchoatives exhibit distinct behavior with respect to the interaction of quantificational objects with a restitutive reading of again: while the restitutive presupposition of a causative verb, as in ‘John opened two doors again,’ is ambiguous between a reading on which the quantified DP is contained within the presupposition (that two doors possibly distinct from the ones being opened now were open before) and one in which this QDP scopes outside of the presupposition (that the same two doors were open before), the inchoative counterpart, ‘Two doors opened again,’ is unambiguous, permitting only the latter restitutive reading (though it does permit a quantificational repetitive reading). We argue that this calls for a new analysis of causatives vs. inchoatives, and presents a challenge for approaches on which the causative and inchoative differ only in the particular ‘flavor’ of v present in the syntax (Pylkkänen 2002; Folli & Harley 2005; Harley 2013). The results of this project have been presented at ACL13 in Tucson, AZ, and at the 94th LSA in New Orleans, LA.
I am working to extend this research into several new directions. First, it is important to examine the extent of cross-linguistic variation observed with this phenomenon. For example, although our English-speaking consultants agreed that both readings were available, prelimary work with speakers of Mandarin suggest that Mandarin causatives permit only one of the restitutive readings observed in English. Second, it appears that not all verbs that participate in the causative-inchoative alternation permit a quantificational restitutive reading with again: causative degree achievements, such as ‘widen’ in ‘John widened a table again,’ permit only the restitutive reading in which that table was wider before, not that some possibly distinct table was wider before.
This research is being further expanded to address the interaction of argument structure with so-called subjectless presuppositions, in which the agent may be excluded from transitive verbs, as in ‘John hit Jim, and Mary hit him again,’ but not with intransitives, as in ‘#John danced, and then Mary danced again’ (Bale 2007). Although Bale (2007) argued that intransitive verbs must contain a representation of the agent in their lexical entry, contra Kratzer’s (1996) proposal that the agent role is systematically introduced by a separate functional head, a current project of mine argues that this cannot be correct: intransitive verbs that typically resist subjectless presuppositions allow them if they occur with a cognate object (‘John danced the Irish jig. Then, Mary danced the Irish jig again’), or if a PP argument is added (‘Fido barked at the cat. Then, Rover barked at it again’). This research thus argues against Bale’s claim, and attributes the variation in the availability of subjectless presuppositions to properties of the structures in which they appear rather than to inherent properties of intransitive verbs. The results of this and related projects have been presented at the 94th LSA in New Orleans, LA, and at WCCFL 38 in Vancouver, BC.
VP Ellipsis and pseudogapping
My syntactic interests revolve largely around ellipsis. Within this area, my work has focused largely on elliptical phenomena in Persian and other Iranian languages, as well as in Japanese. One project, pursued in collaboration with colleagues in Dr. Simin Karimi’s Complex Predicates research group, investigates properties of Persian’s analogues of VP ellipsis and pseudogapping, which act on complex predicates. This work demonstrates a novel asymmetry between VPE and pseudogapping in this language: while VPE is acceptable with any complex predicate, as discussed in Toosarvandani (2009), pseudogapping is only acceptable with compositionally interpretable complex predicates; it is unacceptable if the complex predicate is idiomatic. We argue on the basis of this observation that VPE and pseudogapping in Persian should be given distinct analyses: the former is treated as a species of PF-Deletion, following Toosarvandani’s (2009) analysis, while the latter is analyzed as a null pro-form that receives its interpretation semantically. This further account for another difference between VPE and pseudogapping: in the terminology of Hankamer & Sag (1976), VPE is surface anaphora, and requires a linguistic antecedent, but pseudogapping exhibits properties of deep anaphora, and can be licensed purely by the non-linguistic context. This paper not only contributes to the study of elliptical phenomena in Persian, but also sheds light on the relationship between VPE and pseudogapping cross-linguistically and to a growing literature on asymmetries between VPE and pseudogapping. It further demonstrates that the latter cannot always be assimilated to the former, despite many attempts to do so in the literature. Aspects of this work have been presented at GLOW in Asia XI, NACIL 1, CLS 53, and WCCFL 37. A journal article on this topic is now under review.
Null Anaphora/Argument Ellipsis and the Position Sensitivity of their Interpretation
I am pursuing research into the syntax/semantics of argument ellipsis/null anaphora cross-linguistically, combining my background in Japanese with my elicitation work on various Iranian languages to develop a new approach to these phenomena. I am particularly interested in the following questions pertaining to argument ellipsis:
1) What is the nature of the phenomenon? Is it more akin to ellipsis, or more akin to null pronouns?
2) What properties of a language determine whether or not it has argument ellipsis?
3) Within a language, what brings about asymmetries in the possibility of argument ellipsis in different positions? In particular, why do some languages seem to allow argument ellipsis freely (Japanese and Korean), while others disallow it in subject position but permit it in other positions (most other AE languages)? Are there phenomena in other languages which, despite lacking argument ellipsis, display the same position-sensitive behavior (English 'one'/'some'/N-bar ellipsis)? What do we make of connections to such phenomena?
Preliminary work on this topic arguing against approaches ellipsis analyses of null anaphora was presented at the First North American Conference on Iranian Linguistics here.
The Phonology, Syntax, and Semantics of the Iranian languages
A major research interest of mine is the Iranian languages. Within this area, I have worked on the syntactic structure of complex predicates, differential object marking in Persian, argument ellipsis in Zazaki, second position clitic phenomena in Kurdish and Hawrami, and the nature of split ergativity in Zazaki, Hawrami, and Sorani & Kurmanji Kurdish. I am part of a research group at the University of Arizona, funded by the National Science Foundation, that aims to study the syntactic properties of complex predicates in Iranian languages, along with their interactions with other syntactic phenomena, such as specificity/definiteness and ellipsis. With my UArizona colleague Amber Lubera, I am working on the sound system of Iron Ossetian, an Eastern Iranian language. This project involves phonetic measurements of the vowels and consonants of the language and an in-depth analysis of its stress system.