Interaction of Prosodic and Syntactic Constraints in English and Polish nominals

Bozena Cetnarowska
University of Silesia/UMASS

The present paper contrasts the importance of metrical well-formedness in choosing between alternative linearization patterns in event nominals in English and Polish. Previous research (e.g. Zubizarreta 1987) has shown for English that the occurrence of internal (object-type) arguments as possessives in event nominals is constrained by the Affectedness Constraint, as confirmed by the ill-formedness of the phrases in (1).

(1)  a.  *the problemís consideration by experts
     b.  *the bookís discussion by critics
     c.  *the formulaís memorization by others

I will demonstrate, however, that internal arguments denoting non-affected participants can occur as prenominal possessives when they are pronominal DPs, as in (2).

(2)  a.	 its consideration by experts
     b.  its discussion by critics
     c.	 its memorization by others

I will propose that the Affectedness Constraint is dominated (overranked) in (2) by constraints on metrical well-formedness. I will argue that the prosodic structure in (3) is more felicitous than the one in (4). The event nominal in (4) contains sequences of unfooted syllables and exhibits multiple violations of the Exhaustivity constraint and constraints aligning the edges of morphosyntactic words with the edges of prosodic words (cf. Selkirk 1995, McCarthy and Prince 1993). The digits in (3-4) stand for the primary or secondary stress and the bracketing represents the division into feet.

(3)     its consideration by experts
       (2    0)(2 0)(10)   0(1  0)
(4)     the consideration of it by experts
         0  0 (2 0)(1 0) 0  0   0(1      0)

In the second part of the paper I consider the syntactic realization of internal arguments in Polish verbal nominals (headed by verbal nouns terminating in ñnie). Full lexical DPs occurring as arguments in Polish event nominals are syntactically realized as post-head genitive DPs (as in 5). Pronominal internal arguments are attested either as possessives (6a,7a) or as genitive complements (6b,7b). Examples (6a, 7a) show that there is no affectedness requirement on pronominal possessives in Polish verbal nominals.

(5) 	czytanie 	ksiazek
        reading 	books-gen
(6)  a.  ich 		zgubienie           b.  zgubienie      ich
	 their 	        losing			losing	       them-gen
     ëthe loss of them (6a=6b)í
(7) a.	ich 		posiadanie	    b. 	posiadanie ich
	their 	        possessing		possessing them-gen
     ëthe possessing of them (7a=7b)í

There is, however, a syntactic constraint imposing the Agent or Possessor interpretation on the 1st/2nd person possessives in (8).

(8)	wasze/nasze 	poszukiwanie
	your-pl/our 	searching-for
	ëyour/our search (for sb/sth)í 

Following the proposal of Grimshaw (1997), I will regard the 1st/2nd person pronouns as marked. The constraint requiring the Agent/Possessor reading for marked possessives cannot be overranked in Polish by any prosodic constraints. Consequently, its violation gives rise to the ill-formedness of (9), even though the metrical structure of (9) is more optimal than the structure of (10). The nominal in (10) violates prosodic alignment constraints, such as the alignment of the right edge of the foot with the right edge of a morphosyntactic word and the alignment of the left edge of a foot with the left edge of a prosodic word (cf. Kraska-Szlenk 1995).

(9)     *wasze   zgubienie
         (2  0)    0(1  0)
        your-pl  losing
        'the loss of you-pl'
(10)    zgubienie  was
          0(1  0)   0
        losing    you-pl.gen
        'the loss of you'

The discussion of the factors determining the realization of pronominal arguments in English and Polish nominals has consequences for the theory of syntax-prosody interface. The data from Polish are compatible with the theoretical model proposed within O(ptimality) T(heory) in Golston (1995), in which syntax is assumed to overrank phonology in determining possible word orders. The occurrence of non-affected pronominal possessives in English suggests, however, that a bidirectional model of mutual influence between prosodic and syntactic constraints (as proposed in Zec and Inkelas 1990) is more adequate.


Grimshaw, J. (1997) ìThe Best Clitic: Constraint Conflict in Morphosyntaxî. In: L. Haegeman (ed.) Elements of Grammar, 169-196. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.
Golston, C. (1995) ìSyntax Outranks Phonology: Evidence from Ancient Greekî, Phonology 12:343-368.
Kraska-Szlenk, I. (1995) The Phonology of Stress in Polish. Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
McCarthy, J. and A. Prince (1993) ìGeneralized Alignmentî, Yearbook of Morphology 1993, 79-153.
Selkirk, E. (1995) ìThe Prosodic Structure of Function Wordsî. In: J.Beckman, S.Urbanczyk and L.Walsh (eds.) University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics. Vol. 18: Papers in Optimality Theory, 439-469. GLSA: Amherst M.A.
Zec, D. and S. Inkelas (1990) ìProsodically Constrained Syntaxî. In: S.Inkelas and D. Zec (eds) The Phonology-Syntax Connection, 365-378. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Zubizarreta, M.L. (1987) Levels of Representation in the Lexicon and in the Syntax, Foris Publications, Dordrecht.

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