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Prosody and Recursion in Coordinate Structures and Beyond

Wagner, Michael

This paper argues that generalizations about prosodic phrasing are recursive in nature. 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 these coordinate structures can be captured by recursively combining the prosodies (represented as relational metrical grids) of their parts, in tandem with assembling the compositional meaning of the expression. 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 presented model is argued to generalize beyond the coordinate fragment, despite two types of apparent counterexamples: Structures that are prosodically flat but syntactically articulated, and structures with an apparent mismatch between prosody and syntax, as epitomized by the famous cat that caught the rat that stole the cheese (Chomsky 1965, Chomsky & Halle 1968).

Closer inspection reveals that the syntax might actually be quite in tune with prosody in both cases.

This paper is copyrighted, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) - see
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