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Before strikes back

An *ABA constraint on temporal expressions

Acta Linguistica Hungarica
Author: Ludovico Franco

In this paper, I will present a cross-linguistic analysis of the syntax of items signalling temporal distance. Based on insight from cartography and nanosyntax, I will argue that the mechanism of Phrasal Spell-out (and the Superset Principle) can elegantly explain why in many language ‘before’ and ‘ago’ meanings are expressed with the same word. I will present a previously unnoticed *ABA constraint (cf. Caha 2009; Bobaljik 2012) on lexical spans in the domain of temporal distance. The *ABA pattern will be crucial to account for possible counterexamples of Haspelmath’s (1997) fairly robust descriptive generalization,which states that forms expressing spatial relations of ‘front’ and ‘back’ regularly express anteriority and posteriority respectively, across languages when they are “shifted” from space to time (namely, beforein front; afterback).

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Ergativity splits between perfect and imperfective/progressive predicates are observed in languages with a specialized ergative case (Punjabi) and without it (Kurdish). Perfect predicates correspond to a VP projection; external arguments are introduced by means of an oblique case, namely an elementary part–whole predicate saying that the event is ‘included by’, ‘located at’ the argument. A more complex organization is found with imperfective/progressive predicates, where a head Asp projects a functional layer and introduces the external argument. Our proposal further yields the 1/2P vs. 3P Person split as a result of the intrinsic ability of 1/2P to serve as ‘location-of-event’.

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