Dissertation Defense: Morgan Staley

Candidate Name: Morgan Rood Staley

Major: Linguistics

Advisor: Ruth Kramer, Ph.D.

Title: The Morphosyntax of Pronominal Possessors and Diminutives in Mehri

This dissertation investigates the morphology and syntax of the noun phrase in Mehri, a Modern South Arabian (Semitic) language spoken in Yemen and Oman. Using the framework of Distributed Morphology (DM), I focus on pronominal possessors and diminutive constructions while addressing themes of syncretism, concord, contextual allomorphy and morphophonological wellformedness. These themes are tied together post-syntactically as the grammar, using a universal set of operations, manipulates the syntactic output to derive the observed empirical phenomena. Additionally, the theoretical analyses in this project are supported by novel data collected from the Mehri-speaking Yemeni immigrant community in Abu Dhabi. This fieldwork adds an empirical component to the dissertation, contributing to the modest body of descriptive literature on the Modern South Arabian languages.

Pronominal possessors in Mehri consist of the possessed noun followed by a possessive suffix. For these constructions, I argue that a combination of contextual allomorphy and possessor concord result in the observed data. I also propose a Mehri-specific morphophonological rule to account for odd patterns in the data in which plural suffixes are absent in unexpected contexts. This morphophonological rule, the Only One Suffix Generalization, unifies data from both the nominal and verbal domains in Mehri.

In the second half of the project, I present a comprehensive picture of diminutives in Mehri. I begin by critically reviewing previous diagnostics for determining the syntax of diminutives and propose a modified set of diagnostics supported by cross-linguistic data. Using these diagnostics, I determine that the Mehri nominal diminutives are best analyzed as a [dim] feature adjoined to the nominalizing head. Next I turn to diminutive adjectives, which are similar in form to diminutive nouns but carry no diminutive interpretation. I argue that the diminutive nouns and adjectives are morphomes, a special type of syncretism, and develop an analysis for them utilizing post-syntactic feature insertion.

Overall, this dissertation examines the interaction between syntactic universals and language-specific morphological rules that result in diverse linguistic phenomena. The results bear directly on the function of post-syntactic operations in the DM model as well as contribute new Mehri data to the literature on this understudied language.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 9:00am to 11:00am

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, Linguistics, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Erin Esch Pereira

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