The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu
Section Menu

Colloquium with Sandhya Sundaresan, Universität Leipzig

Title:  "Indexical Shift and the grammar of intensionality"


In classic cases of indexical shift, attested in languages like Amharic, Zazaki, Nez Perce, Turkish, and many others, a sentence like “Jill said that I am sick”, uttered by Marie, can actually be a statement about Jill’s sickness rather than Marie’s. I.e. the reference of the indexical pronoun ‘I’ is context-shifted, such that it doesn’t refer to Marie (speaker of the utterancecontext) but to Jill (speaker of the context associated with the matrix speech event).

In this talk, I will present two types of evidence that show that the landscape of indexical shift is far more nuanced than is typically assumed:

(i) exceptions to Shift Together (the restriction that all shiftable indexicals in a local domain must shift together) in Tamil, Korean and potentially other languages including Late Egyptian, which crucially co-exist with Shift Together holding as a robust restriction in many languages; and

(ii) evidence, from dialectal microvariation in Tamil (based on personal fieldwork) and crosslinguistic variation from 28 languages, which shows not only that indexical shift is subject to considerable selectional variation, but also that such variation is implicationally structured, privileging speech predicates over all others (making indexical shift an embedded root phenomenon).

I show that current theories of indexical shift cannot handle these challenges and develop a new syntax and semantics of this phenomenon, which does. This new theory derives indexical shift without overwriting the utterance-context but also makes such shift sensitive to Relativized Minimality; it also redefines the contextual operator or “monster” that effects shift as a special type of intensional complementizer, merged at different heights along the clausal spine, reflecting differences in the nature of the embedded attitude. The new model also makes several testable empirical predictions which are fulfilled:

a. that indexical shift cannot obtain in structures that lack a complementizer;

b. that it can obtain in the absence of attitude verbs; and

c. that it interacts with other embedded root phenomena (like allocutivity).

Through it all, we will see that the new theory also has the welcome consequence that it demystifies indexical shift: this is no longer an esoteric phenomenon that applies to “exotic” languages. Rather, all languages are indexically shifting in some way, with variation simply being relegated to which contextual coordinates are shifted, and which indexicals are shiftable, in a given structure or language. Indexical shift can thus be fruitfully deployed as an empirical lens to diagnose the structures involved in intensionality and finiteness across dialects and languages.