Under the direction of Dr. Gillian Gallagher, Mr. Neil Myler will conduct linguistic fieldwork on two varieties of Quechua in order to deepen our understanding of possession sentences across languages. Possession sentences pose some long-standing puzzles for linguistic theory. In particular, their syntactic structure varies widely across languages. A minority of languages uses a transitive verb for possession (as does English- 'I have a sister'; 'I have a car'), but most use an intransitive verb corresponding to 'be', along with a preposition or a case-marker on one of the arguments. Such languages have constructions like 'at me is a sister', 'I am with a sister' or 'there is my sister', corresponding to 'I have a sister'. These facts raise two important questions for comparative syntax, which are the focus of this investigation: (i) what other syntactic properties of a language determine whether it has a transitive verb 'have' or not?; and (ii) how exactly do the many types of 'be' construction found cross-linguistically differ in their syntax and semantics?

Mr. Myler will investigate these questions by eliciting judgments on the grammaticality and meaning of possession sentences from native speakers of two closely related Quechua dialects: the Bolivian dialect of Cochabamba and the Argentine dialect of Santiago del Estero. Cochabamba Quechua has three syntactically-distinguishable 'be'-based possession constructions, making it ideal for investigating question (ii). In addition, Santiago del Estero Quechua is a 'have' language, while Cochabamba Quechua is a 'be' language. Since the two dialects are otherwise very similar to each other, a direct comparison of the two should yield insight into question (i). As well as addressing these important theoretical questions, the project will make glossed transcriptions of the data available via a website, thus contributing to the description of Quechua languages and providing resources for future research on them. Finally, this award will enhance the training of a graduate student.

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New York University
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