Prosody outranks syntax

an optimality approach to subject inversion in Bantu relatives

Carolyn Harford, Katherine Demuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Bantu languages exhibit two different surface word orders in object relative clauses (Demuth & Harford 1999). Some languages (e.g. Sesotho) preserve basic SV word order, while others (e.g. Chishona) exhibit VS word order. Closer analysis reveals that the object relative complementizer in Sesotho is a disyllabic prosodic word, whereas the object relative complementizer in Chishona is a monosyllabic prosodic clitic that triggers verb-raising to C 0. This paper analyzes these data within the framework of Optimality Theory, showing how morpho-phonological constraints on the prosodic shape of words dominate syntactic constraints on verb movement. These findings appear problematic for recent proposals that syntactic constraints dominate all prosodic constraints, and that prosodic constraints operate only on pairs of equally well-formed syntactic constructions (Golston 1995). Implications for the nature of the prosody-syntax interface are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-68
Number of pages22
JournalLinguistic Analysis
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

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