Michael Wagner: Prosody and Recursion in Coordinate Structures and Beyond

Generalizations about relative prosodic boundary strength are recursive. Initial evidence comes from the fragment of English consisting only of proper names and and and or. A systematic relation between the semantics, the syntactic combinatorics, and the prosodic phrasing of coordinate structures can be captured by recursively building up their prosody, in tandem with assembling their compositional meaning. Alternative edge-based approaches to prosodic phrasing fail to capture the recursive nature of the generalization, a result independent of whether or not prosodic representation itself is assumed to be recursive. The pattern generalizes beyond the grammar of coordination, despite two types of apparent counterexamples: Structures that are prosodically flat but syntactically articulated, and structures with an apparent outright mismatch between prosody and syntax. Closer inspection suggests that the syntax might actually be quite in tune with prosody. In both cases, natural language employs strategies to construe complex meaning with list-like structures rather than nested ones. The privileged status of lists may be due to processing factors.

Keywords: Prosody, Recursion, Bracketing Paradoxes, Lists

full paper

To appear in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory