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Syntactic Structure of K'ichee' Mayan

Lachlan Duncan


Linguistic research on the Mayan languages up to the mid 1980s was almost exclusively descriptive in nature. At best, analyses were speculative and pre-theoretical. Since then, research based on contemporary theories of syntax have begun to emerge. In adopting the formal architecture of OT-LFG, I argue that my dissertation can be included amongst this body of analytical research. My overall goal is to provide a syntactic structure for K'ichee' Mayan, the most widely spoken Mayan language in Guatemala.

My dissertation reviews relevant Mayanist literature and covers a broad spectrum of grammatical phenomena and pertinent theories of syntax and markedness. In that regard, OT-LFG remains a formidable analytical tool because phrase-structure or generalized linear precedence rules are insufficiently fine-grained to capture the natural variation of the clausal distribution of constituents. In addition, the abundant interlinear-glossed data includes material drawn from a variety of published sources. Nevertheless data are taken overwhelmingly from the author's fieldwork, elicited from first language speakers of K'ichee' Mayan from the regional center of Totonicapan, Guatemala.

As a pro-drop, head-marking language, K'ichee' marks agreement on finite predicates with ergative and absolutive agreement markers. Possessed nouns agree in person and number with their possessors and complex prepositions with their object complements. The predicate-initial clause is argued to be a non-endocentric S(entence), with a canonical word order S --> V-zero XP*. External topics adjoin to CP, while the internal topic is located at the left edge of the specifier of IP (SpecIP). K'ichee' evidences zero copula nominal and adjectival predicates, while existential, possessive, and locational predicates generally require what I propose as the positional copula, k'oolik.

As a new hybrid argument-non-argument category, Function Theta (Fn_theta) represents a thematically-selected for but not syntactically-selected for grammatical function. The contrastives, interrogatives, and negatives (excluding clausal negation) are all focused arguments. They constitute, I argue, as non-verbal predicates, located in SpecIP of the focusing predicate, and order such that Interrogative Focus and Contrastive Focus (in complementary distribution) precede Negative focus. As a morphologically-intransitive, binary thematic-role predicate, the intransitive actor focus, I argue, presents as a subject-sharing complex predicate.

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