Nikita Bezrukov's dissertation proposal defense will be held on Friday, September 25th at 10am EST. It will take place on Zoom.

The proposal document can be found here, and the abstract is included below. 


Title: Caucasus in Motion: On Morphological Mobility and Clause Structure

Advisor: David Embick

Committee: Julie Legate, Rolf Noyer, Martin Salzmann

The proposed dissertation project provides an in-depth look at the syntax and morphology of mobile verb inflection in the linguistically diverse Caucasus area, and situates the fragmented literatures on these languages within the broader theoretical discussion of second-position clisis and verb-second word orders in the languages of the world. Many Armenian, Iranian, and Lezgic (more broadly, NE Caucasian) varieties use TAM and (Subject) Agreement markers to mark narrow focus whereby a verb inflection marker encliticizes directly onto the focused constituent. Crucially, this is observed in a subset of (periphrastic) forms only, and elsewhere these morphemes are hosted by the verb itself. In the Tatic (< Iranian) languages of the South Caucasus and NW Iran, instead of marking focus, such mobile morphemes show robust second-position effects in out-of-the-blue contexts, where the mobile marker encliticizes to the leftmost syntactic element in the relevant domain. Armenian, Northern Talysh and Udi famously show both second-position effects and focus-sensitivity at the same time. Moreover, in Armenian and Udi, a single mobile element shows both types of properties whereas Northern Talysh distinguishes between second-position and focus-marking mobile elements.

I address the question of how this typology can be derived in a constructivist morpheme-based model of the language (Minimalist Syntax paired with Distributed Morphology) through asking the following questions: (a) Where are the interpretable TAM morphemes merged in the syntax? (b) Do Subject Agreement markers with a similar distribution have the same provenance? (c) How do these mobile morphemes find their surface position? (d) How do we derive the difference between non-focus- sensitive and non-second-position (e.g., Turkic), focus-sensitive and non-second-position (Lezgic), non- focus-sensitive and second-position (Tatic), and focus-sensitive and second-position (Armenian, Udi) languages? Contra the class of influential lower-phase analyses where all the action takes place at the vP level, I argue the phenomenon of mobile verb inflection markers should be localized at the boundary between the core part of the clause (TP) and the left periphery (CP). The morphemes at play are usually the outermost TAM markers merged high in the clausal spine, and their ability to be displaced is defined by their morphological properties such as the ability to participate in head movement and lowering and by their linearization properties. The distinction between focus-sensitivity and second-position effects is attributed to the presence of two syntactic positions/zones. Second position effects are the result of the presence of Domain Delimiter, a DomP projection which sets the boundary between the clausal core and the left periphery. Information-structural sensitivity is explained by the presence of a further movement to FocP and/or TopP, to which discourse-marked syntactic elements are shifted. The co-occurrence of the DomP and a rich left periphery (FocP, TopP) coupled with morphological displacement accross these positions accounts for the distribution of mobile markers in Armenian, Talysh, and Udi.