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Louisa Bielig’s 2015 BA Honours thesis, “Classifiers and constraints in Chuj topic constructions”, is now available for download here: [PDF]. Louisa finished her BA in 2015 and was awarded McGill’s Cremona Memorial Prize in linguistics for her research on Chuj.
Abstract: Like many other Mayan languages, Chuj, a language of the Q’anjob’alan branch, exhibits syntactic ergativity in the form of an extraction asymmetry. The A’-extraction of transitive subjects (ergative arguments) requires the use of a special construction, known as Agent Focus. However, preverbal ergative subjects without Agent Focus are permitted in topic constructions, where a corresponding nominal classifier, which I refer to as a resumptive classifier, appears post-verbally. Transitive and intransitive preverbal subjects can appear as topics with resumptive classifiers, while preverbal object topics are strongly dispreferred.
In this paper I propose that the preverbal subject in this construction has not been fronted, as is the case in Agent Focus. I argue that it has instead been base-generated in an external topic position and is co-indexed with the resumptive classifier below, following Aissen’s (1992) account of Tsotsil and Popti’ (Jakaltek) external topics. I will employ Aissen’s diagnostics and other tests to show that these topics are not compatible with a movement account, supporting the high base generation analysis. Subsequently, I will present two constraints on the external topic construction, which explain the strong dispreference of object topics.