Vera Gribanova: “Head movement, ellipsis, and Russian polarity focus”

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Vera Gribanova: “Head movement, ellipsis, and Russian polarity focus”

March 14, 2015 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

| Stevenson Fireside Lounge | Free

Vera Gribanova is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University.


In this talk I chart the interaction between head movement, ellipsis, and non-canonical word orders in the analysis of a variety of Russian responses to statements or questions that raise polar alternatives in the discourse.

(1) Evgenija poslala posylku v Moskvu?
Evgenija send.PST.3SG.F package.ACC to Moscow.LOC
‘Did Eugenia send the package to Moscow?’

a. (Net,) Ne poslala / (Da,) Poslala.
No NEG send.PST.3SG.F / yes send.PST.3SG.F
‘(No,) she didn’t / (Yes,) she did.’

b. (Də) (net,) ne poslala ona eë!
PRT no NEG send.PST.3SG.F she.nom it.F.ACC
‘(No,) she DIDN’T send it!’

c. V Moskvu {poslala / da}, a v Piter {ne poslala / net}.
to Moscow {send.PST.3SG.F / yes} but to Piter {NEG send.PST.3SG.F / no}
‘To Moscow yes (she did), to St. Petersburg, no (she didn’t).’

Although some of these seemingly diverse constructions have already received individual analyses (Kazenin, 2006; Laleko, 2010; Gribanova, 2013; Bailyn, To appear), I argue that besides sharing a discourse function, they are also syntactically unifiable. As a first step, I defend an axis of novel claims about the expression of polarity in canonical Russian clauses: features associated with polarity are located in Pol, but may be expressed in a lower head (Neg), which enters the syntactic derivation with unvalued polarity features that are valued via an agree relation with Pol. I then extend this analysis to the cases in (1), arguing that these involve the expression of polarity features in a high clausal Polarity head (Pol), either via the realization of polarity particles or via the movement of the verbal complex to this high position (yielding discourse-marked vso orders).

Since many of the expressions in (1) also involve some readily observable form of ellipsis (Kazenin, 2006; Gribanova, 2013), the resulting empirical picture provides fertile ground for an exploration of the interaction of ellipsis and head movement, ultimately shedding light on the controversial question of the modular status of head movement (see Matushansky 2006; Roberts 2010 for useful overviews). Considering the head movement alone, a consequence of my proposal is that there are two possible landing sites for the verb: an intermediate position below T and the surface position of the subject for canonical svo orders (Bailyn, 1995; Gribanova, 2013) and a high position (above the surface position of the subject) for various instantiations of polarity focus, yielding discourse-marked vso orders. We can combine this observation with insights from the current literature on ellipsis in Russian, which suggests that at least two sizes of ellipsis site are available: TP (Kazenin, 2006) and vP (Gribanova, 2013). Crossing the ellipsis and head movement possibilities, we arrive at four logical possibilities:

I demonstrate that only three of these are attested, explaining the impossibility of the variant in D as the result of a violation of MaxElide (Merchant, 2008), a constraint which forces ellipsis of a larger domain over a smaller one in certain configurations. The effect of MaxElide canonically emerges when a variable inside the ellipsis site is bound from outside that ellipsis site — that is, it emerges in the context of movement in the narrow syntax. The finding that head movement also may trigger a MaxElide effect indicates — echoing similar findings by Hartman (2011) — that it, too, occurs in the narrow syntax.

Bailyn, John Frederick. 1995. Underlying phrase structure and ‘short’ verb movement in Russian. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 3 (1): 13–58.

Bailyn, John Frederick. To appear. Against a VP ellipsis account of Russian verb-stranding constructions. In Studies in Japanese and Korean linguistics and beyond, ed. Alexander Vovin. Folkestone and Leiden: Global Oriental/Brill.

Gribanova, Vera. 2013. Verb-stranding verb phrase ellipsis and the structure of theRussian verbal complex. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 31 (1): 91–136.

Hartman, Jeremy. 2011. The semantic uniformity of traces: Evidence from ellipsis parallelism. Linguistic Inquiry 42 (3): 367–388.

Kazenin, Konstantin. 2006. Polarity in Russian and typology of predicate ellipsis. Moscow State University.

Laleko, Oksana. 2010. Negative-contrastive ellipsis in Russian: Syntax meets information structure. In Formal studies in Slavic linguistics, eds. Anastasia Smirnova, Vedrana Mihaliˇcek, and Lauren Ressue, 197–218. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Matushansky, Ora. 2006. Head movement in linguistic theory. Linguistic Inquiry 1: 69–109.

Merchant, Jason. 2008. Variable island repair under ellipsis. In Topics in ellipsis, ed. Kyle Johnson, 132– 153. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, Ian. 2010. Agreement and head movement: Clitics, incorporation, and defective goals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


March 14, 2015
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Linguistics Department
(831) 459-2386


Stevenson Fireside Lounge
Fireside Lounge‎, University of California Santa Cruz, Stevenson College
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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