SRPP: Recursion and the definition of universal prosodic categories

Laura Downing (University of Gothenburg)
18 décembre 2020, 14h0015h30

Recursion and the definition of universal prosodic categories

Lisa L.S. Cheng & Laura J. Downing

A body of recent work on the phonology-syntax interface within prosodic structure theory proposes thatthere are only two post-lexical phrasal categories in the Prosodic Hierarchy, Phonological Phrase and Intonation Phrase. These two categories are considered universal, as they are defined in terms of cross-linguistically valid syntactic categories, XP and clause:

(1)       Phrasal prosodic Hierarchy (Elfner 2012: 10; Itô & Mester 2013: 26; Selkirk 2011; Truckenbrodt 2007)

Intonation Phrase                 matches                     syntactic clause (CP)


Phonological Phrase              matches                     syntactic phrase (XP)

As Bennett & Elfner’s (2019) recent overview article makes clear, the claim of universality has the following consequences:

    1. all languages should show evidence that both of these prosodic categories actively condition phrasalphonology, not just one of them;
    2. only these two prosodic categories define domains for phrasal Even a phrasal prosodicdomain that does not straightforwardly match one of the syntactic domains in (1) must, nonetheless, bedefined as either a Phonological Phrase or Intonation Phrase.

In recent analyses, like Ito & Mester (2013), Elfner (2015) and Elordieta (2015), the number of prosodic categories appealed to has been kept to a minimum by crucially using recursion to parse strings into variants ofPhonological Phrase or Intonation Phrase. For example, Ito & Mester (2013) proposes that the accent phrase orminor phrase that has often been invoked in analyzing Japanese prosody is best recast as a minimal Phonological Phrase. Elfner (2012) and Elordieta (2015) propose that, in Irish and Basque respectively, CP isparsed as a recursion of Phonological Phrase, rather than Intonation Phrase, in apparent violation of principle 1,above.

In this paper, we discuss this use of recursion by critically examining the prosodic categories chosen to parseadjunction in syntactic structure. In particular, we re-examine how the recent literature handles the prosodicparse of adjectives, adverbs, topics and relative clauses. Our main empirical focus will be Bantu languages,building on work like that found in Cheng & Downing (2016), Downing & Rialland (2017) and Truckenbrodt (1995).

We show that the unrestricted use of recursion leads to a number of undesirable consequences: (a) differentprosodic categories are chosen to parse the same structure;

(b) different prosodic correlates are associated with the same recursive prosodic phrases; and (c) there is agreater mismatch between prosodic and syntactic structure. These problems obviously conflict with the goal of having a universal set of prosodic categories, with a cross-linguistically consistent definition. A final issuewe take up is whether factors related to information structure that interfere with the default phrasing motivatean additional category in the Prosodic Hierarchy.

Selected references:

Bennett, Ryan & Emily Elfner. 2019. The syntax-prosody interface. Annual Review of Linguistics 5, 151-171.

Cheng, Lisa L-S & Laura J. Downing. 2016. Phrasal syntax = phrasal phonology? Syntax 19, 159-191. Downing, Laura J. &Annie Rialland, eds. 2017. Intonation in African Tone Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Elfner, Emily. 2012. Syntax-Prosody Interactions in Irish. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Elfner, Emily. 2015. Recursion in prosodic phrasing: evidence from Connemara Irish. NLLT 33, 1169- 1208.

Elordieta, Gorka. 2015. Recursive phonological phrasing in Basque. Phonology 32, 49-78. Ito, Junko & ArminMester. 2013. Prosodic subcategories in Japanese. Lingua 124, 20-40.

Selkirk, Elisabeth. 2011. The syntax-phonology interface. In John Goldsmith, Jason Riggle & Alan C. Yu (eds.), The Handbook of Phonological Theory, 2nd edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 435- 484.

Truckenbrodt, Hubert. 1995. Phonological phrases: their relation to syntax, focus, and prominence. Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Truckenbrodt, Hubert. 2007. The syntax-phonology interface. In Paul de Lacy (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook ofphonology. Cambridge University Press, 435-456.

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