Little v as domain/phase delimiter

Little v as domain/phase delimiter

Little v as domain/phase delimiter

Lisa deMena Travis, McGill University

Among the many functions of little v, one is to delimit a domain (thematic domain:

Grohman (2003); l-syntactic domain: Hale and Keyser (1993)) or a phase (e.g. Chomsky

(2001)). I will investigate this use of little v, using syntactic, semantic, and, in particular,

phonological evidence, to examine possible fine-tuning of the edge of the vP. There are three

questions in particular that I will examine.

• Does v send VP to Spell-out?

• Are there heads between T and v that could be phase heads?

• Can the domain of vP be extended?

First, using phonological arguments, I will show that v does not send its complement to

Spell-out but rather v along with VP must be spelled out in the same phase. The relevant

data come from Malayalam lexical causatives as discussed in Marantz (2007) and Michaels

(2009) where lexical causative morphemes, arguably in v, can be seen to be within the

first phase in terms of the type of phonology that they exhibit. We see the relevant data

below where the lexical causative triggers fusion because the causative suffix, -kk, is attached

within a phase (1b) and the productive causative triggers vowel insertion because the same

morpheme is attached outside the phase (1c).

(1) a. booṭṭ@ muNN-i

boat sink-past

‘The boat sank.’

b. kuṭṭi booṭṭ@ mu-kk-i.

child boat sink-cause-past

‘The child sank the boat.’

c. kuṭṭi booṭṭ@ muNN-icc-u.

child boat sink-cause-past ‘The child caused the boat to sink.’

Using semantic arguments, I claim that head movement cannot explain this tauto-phasal

behaviour. I follow Marantz (2007) and Travis (2000) in assuming that both semantic

and phonological idiosyncratic behaviour can occur within the first phase. Then I provide

arguments from VP ellipsis (see Goldberg 2005) that heads are interpreted in their merged

positions. If this is the case, semantic idiosyncrasies occurring between v and V point to

their being merged within the same Spell-out domain.

Second, using phonological arguments from lexical versus productive causatives in Malagasy,

I propose that another functional head above v (E as in Travis (2000)) is also spelled

out within this first phase. In Malagasy there is an extra morpheme, f-, that appears between

the lexical causative prefix and the productive causative prefix. Using a root that begins

with f to create a minimal contrast, we can see that when the causative morpheme attaches

within a phase, fusion occurs (n+f →m) but when the causative morpheme attaches across

a phase boundary, prenasalization occurs (n+f → m p).


(2) Productive causative (PC)

PC of lexical causative m+an+f+an+fatra mampamatra

‘z makes y measure x’ n+f→ m p; n+f→m

Third, I argue that the domain of the first phase (EP) cannot be extended in the manner

suggested by Embick (2010) to account for root allomorphy in, for example, English. This

is clear in Ojibwe where tense morphemes are attached outside of the first phase. In Ojibwe,

vowel hiatus is resolved through V deletion within a phase and across phase boundaries

allowed to remain (see Piggott and Newell (2005) for details). We can see in the example

below that vowel hiatus remains unresolved following the tense prefix, indicating that Tense

must be outside of the first phase.

(3) a. wi:a:gamose:

‘he will walk in snowshoes’



b. gi:a:gamose:

‘he walked in snowshoes’



If domains cannot be extended, a question is raised about the domain of root allomorphy. I

will explore this question further without necessarily arriving at a solution.

The take-home message is that phonological and semantic data can be used to investigate

what at first might appear to be a purely syntactic issue arriving at a more fine-tuned

understanding of the role of v.


Chomsky, N. (2001). Derivation by phase. In Kenstowicz, M., editor, Ken Hale: A Life in

Linguistics, pages 1–52. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Embick, D. (2010). Localism versus Globalism in Morphology and Phonology. MIT Press,

Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Goldberg, L. M. (2005). Verb-Stranding VP Ellipsis: A Cross-Linguistic Study. PhD thesis,

McGill University, Montreal.

Grohmann, K. K. (2003). Prolific Domains: On the Anti-Locality of Movement

Dependencies. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Hale, K. and Keyser, S. J. (1993). On argument structure and the lexical expression of

syntactic relations. In Hale, K. and Keyser, S. J., editors, The view from building 20,

pages 53–110. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Marantz, A. (2007). Phases and words. In Choe, S.-H., editor, Phases in the Theory of

Grammar, pages 191–222. Dong In, Seoul.

Michaels, J. (2009). To alternate or not to alternate: What is the boundary? In North East

Linguistic Society 40 (NELS 40).

Piggott, G. and Newell, H. (2005). Syllabification and the spell-out of phases in Ojibwa

words. In McGill Working Papers in Linguistics 20. McGill Department of Linguistics.

Travis, L. d. (2000). The L-syntax/S-syntax boundary: Evidence from Austronesian. In

Paul, I., Phillips, V., and Travis, L., editors, Formal Issues in Austronesian Linguistics,

pages 167–194. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.


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