Referential properties of Serbian possessive modifiers

  • This thesis examines the referential properties of prenominal possessive modifiers in Serbian. The focus of the investigation is on the configurations that have been claimed to violate Binding Principles B and C: lexical or pronominal possessives modifying a noun in subject position binding a pronoun or an R-expression in object position. Such constructions have been claimed to be ungrammatical in Serbian due to the alleged adjectival status of the possessive and its respective syntactic position as NP-adjoined (Despić 2013). The present thesis takes up the ongoing debate about the categorial status of Serbian possessives as adjectives or determiners. Based on several arguments, such as word order, binding of anaphora, coordination, and the fact that they are typically represented by either nouns or pronouns, it is concluded that possessives rather behave like full noun phrases than adjectives. Therefore, I analyse possessives as DPs from a categorial point of view. In a second step, the syntactic position of the possessives within the Serbian noun phrase has been investigated. Based on theoretical arguments (cf. Bašić 2004) and empirical evidence, I propose a structural position that would accommodate the binding facts and the referential possibilities in these configurations. In line with Kayne (1994), Bernstein and Tortora (2005) and Alexiadou et al. (2007), I assume that possessives occupy SpecAgrP in Serbian, where they move from their base position (SpecPossP). Thirdly, I question the (im)possibility of coreference with possessives in comparison to ‘typical’ binding constructions without possessives by providing empirical evidence from three experimental studies, showing that coreference between possessive modifiers and objects is indeed available in Serbian. The results from Experiment 1 (a picture selection task) have shown that coreference between a lexical possessive and a (clitic or strong) pronoun is allowed in Serbian. Further, there is a tendency that the coreferential reading is preferred with clitics, while the disjoint reference is preferred with strong pronouns. The fact that coreference is possible, does not necessarily mean that it is always available as the only interpretation, but can be influenced by other (pragmatic) factors. The same is observed in Experiments 2 and 3 as coreference was chosen between pronominal possessives modifying a noun in subject position and R-expressions but rejected between pronouns and R-expressions in a forced-choice task, suggesting a structural difference – no c-command – in the former case. The results from the self-paced reading task corroborate this finding. Importantly, the experimental results provide evidence that possessive configurations are not violating Binding Principles B and C. This implies that Serbian possessive constructions do not c-command out of the noun phrase, as predicted by the proposed syntactic analysis. The findings from all experiments contribute to the bigger picture concerning the nature and behaviour of Serbian possessives and cast doubt on the cross-linguistic DG/AG parameter. Instead, the theoretical arguments and the empirical results from the experiments rather speak for a parallel structure of possessive noun phrases in Serbian and English and ultimately in favour of the Universal DP Hypothesis.

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Author:Sanja Srdanović
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Esther Rinke, Petra Schulz
Advisor:Esther Rinke, Petra Schulz
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2022/01/13
Year of first Publication:2022
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2021/10/06
Release Date:2022/02/16
Page Number:203
Institutes:Neuere Philologien
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 49 Andere Sprachen / 491 Ostindoeuropäische und keltische Sprachen / 491.8 Slawische Sprachen
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht