Optimal Case Marking in Fore

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This paper addresses a complex interaction of factors that underlie optional subject marking in Fore, a Papuan language, and proposes a formal model to account for this phenomenon. Fore is both head and dependent marking. When both arguments of a transitive verb are third person, there is a potential ambiguity as to the identity of the subject and object. To resolve this, NPs are added to the clause, and a few apparent strategies for distinguishing the core arguments are observed: these include appealing to a 'default' interpretation of higher animate as subject, lower animate as object, word order freezing, and, marginally, case marking. These phenomena have a natural explanation in terms of the markedness of associations between animacy and grammatical functions, but such functional explanations do not fit easily within traditional generative grammar.

In this paper, I develop an account of these data that formalizes these intuitive explanations within Optimality Theory. I make use of harmonic alignment of universal prominence scales to define the contexts, 'floating' constraints to model the optionality of case marking, and use comprehension-directed bidirectional optimization to model the general interpretive principle of ambiguity avoidance, a critical component in modeling the Fore data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-115
Number of pages25
JournalOceanic Linguistics
Issue number1/2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Fore
  • Papuan
  • Differential argument marking
  • case marking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics


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