Thursday, April 19, 2007

Central Time Zone = dialect area?

So, David Pesetsky (MIT) spoke yesterday on campus about "Why nouns and verbs build different kinds of phrases". Can't believe I missed a lecture by a leading formal syntax person when he was talking about the Hatfields and McCoys of lexical categories (damn those Nouns), but I've talked to a couple of folks who were there and did get a handout.

He apparently made a passing remark about the Central Time Zone as a dialect area, maybe tongue in cheek. In this region (or rather, for one Iowa speaker specifically), you apparently don't find "X-trace effects" (where X = that, for, P and tensed verbs). If I understand the point, he was saying that CTZ speakers have sentences like the one in (d), this all from (13) of the handout:
[non-subject wh → optional that]
a. What do you think [Mary read ___ ]?
b. What do you think [that Mary read ___ ]?

[subject wh → no that]
c. Who do you think [ ___ read the book]?
d. *Who do you think [that ___ read the book]?
The last one is definitely out for me, but it does sound like something I've heard, and it's not anything I listen for. I do hear another pattern pretty often, resumptive pronouns (example from a Lingua paper by Cann et al.):
I had some other point which I can't remember what it is.
I'm no syntactician, but these must surely be related at some level of abstraction, since both are about filling gaps. Resumptive pronouns strike me as more age-graded than regional (with young people doing it more), though it probably has a regional aspect to it. Anyway, there's an empirical question: let's get out there and see if these patterns sound good to speakers from our time zone.

OK, enough syntax; let's talk dialects. Let's assume he was being flip about the CTZ as a dialect area, and you may chuckle at the thought that Biloxi and the Rio Grande Valley share significant regional features with International Falls and Fargo. (And did Indiana flipflop between dialects twice a year before they finally accepted daylight saving time?) Let's call it 'Fly-over Talk' or something.

If this has a clear geographical pattern to it, what is that pattern? Iowa is mostly Midlands, and we know from work like Erica Benson's that lots of syntactic stuff (including innovations) is floating around in there, and flowing from there. Is this Midlands? Is it tied to resumptive pronouns more directly, like used by the same speakers?


The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, I was raised in ETZ but near the border (Tennessee). I wouldn't say "Who do you think that read the book" but I do say "I had some other point which I can't remember what it is."

So maybe there's overlap? (Semi-serious...)

Anonymous said...

Sobin, Nicholas (1987) “The Variable Status of COMP-Trace Phenomena,” Natural Language
and Linguistic Theory
5(1), 33-60.

-- reporting grammaticality ratings from students at the University of Nebraska, I believe.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Ridger, my suspicion (probably already tested in the literature) is that resumptive pronouns are far more widespread. Anon., I didn't even think to check for syntax stuff on this. I gather from folks I've talked to today that there's more recent work out there, maybe not even published yet.

Joe said...

I talked to one young Michigan speaker today who wasn't sure she used "Who do you think that read the book?" but didn't think it sounded odd to her. Others I've asked have gulped at it.

Andy said...

My nuclear family violates WH-islands ruthlessly: for us sentences like "That's the one that I didn't know what was" are right, while the resumed version sounds terrible. We're from the upper midwest.

Anybody else out there think they do this? We're either spontaneous mutants at the genetic or cultural level, or we got it from someone....

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. I guess we're seeing a pattern here, Andy. Have you checked out that NLLT paper by Sobin? Our electronic access doesn't go back that far, so I'll have to get it at the library.