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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Kyle Johnson

Second Advisor

Kristine Yu

Third Advisor

Ellen Woolford

Fourth Advisor

Meghan Armstrong-Abrami

Subject Categories

African Languages and Societies | Language Description and Documentation | Phonetics and Phonology | Syntax


Understanding the relationship between syntactic structures and linear strings is a challenge for modern syntactic theories. The most complete and widely accepted models — namely, the Headedness Parameter and the Linear Correspondence Axiom (Kayne, 1994) — each capture aspects of this relationship, but are either too permissive or two restrictive: A Headedness Parameter relativized to individual categories permits nearly any linear order which keeps phrases contiguous, even those that violate the Final-Over-Final Constraint (Sheehan et al. 2017); by contrast, the Linear Correspondence Axiom is well-known for ruling out head-final configurations generally. Subsequent models of linearization have typically been modifications of one of these two proposals, and as such inherit many of their flaws. In recent years an interesting new hypothesis has begun to emerge. Elfner (2012) discusses an anomalous displacement in Irish in which prosodically-light pronouns are displaced to the right of their expected position, with no change in meaning. This appears to be evidence that the linearization procedure does not operate purely on syntactic structure, but rather needs to know the phonological form of individual items in order to order them. I term this phenomenon prosodic displacement; other cases include second-position clitics in Serbo-Croatian (Schütze 1994) and clausal right-extraposition in Malagasy (Edmiston & Potsdam 2016). In this dissertation, I first describe a new case of prosodic displacement. Khoekhoegowab is a language from the Khoisan group spoken in Namibia by about 200,000 people. In Khoekhoegowab, tense, aspect, and polarity are expressed by clitic items that are separable from the verb. These items come in two classes: One class appears before the verb, while the other follows the verb. The classes are not divided along morphosyntactic lines — that is, even if you know the meaning and function of a particular particle, you cannot predict which class it will fall into. However, the classes are not arbitrary: they break down along clearly phonological lines, in that the preverbal particles are all prosodically short (one mora), while the post-verbal ones are all heavy (two moras). Based on data from original fieldwork, I argue that this is a case of prosodic displacement. First, I show that the position of the preverbal particles is an implausible candidate for syntactic movement in that they can be apparently displaced into conjuncts. Second, I show that the choice of particle has added prosodic effects: The verb only undergoes sandhi (a tonal substitution process) when one of the light tense particles precedes it. Based on this data and the other known cases of prosodic displacement, I propose a theory of Optimal Linearization, which takes seriously the Minimalist notion that linearization is a post-syntactic (and specifically phonological) process. As such, I model linearization using the same tools used to model other phonological processes, namely violable constraints as in Optimality Theory. These constraints alone give us new insight into the linearization process: The fact that specifiers are always on the left is modeled as an emergence of the unmarked preference for head-finality, while the Final-Over-Final Constraint is captured using a domain-specific head-finality constraint. The interaction of these linearization constraints with other specifically-prosodic constraints results in prosodic displacement whenever the “expected” order would yield a marked prosody. This model allows me to make predictions about the typology of prosodic displacement overall.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.