Marcus Berger presented on "The Subject Position in Spanish Nominalized Infinitives" at the 38th Penn Linguistics Conference at the University of Pennsylvania on March 29, 2014.
While much recent work has focused on various nominal and verbal properties of syntactic nominalizations, relatively little work has investigated how their internal structure is derived. I address this problem by providing an analysis of these ‘mixed’ constructions in Spanish, a language which uses the Nominalized Infinitive (NI) as a productive means of nominalization.
Some authors identify two distinct NI constructions (Plann 1981, Alexiadou et al. 2011) and others identify three (Yoon & Bonet-Farran 1991, Ramírez 2003). I investigate the (generally agreed upon) most verbal of these constructions, what I (following Ramírez 2003) term the “Sentential” NI. I pay special attention to the low (1) vs. high (2) position of the subject ella (the NI construction is indicated by brackets).
1a. [El escribir novelas ella] explica su fama.
the write-INF novels she explains her fame
‘Her writing novels explains her fame.’
1b. [El haber escrito novelas ella] explica su fama.
the have-INF write-PTCP novels she explains her fame
‘Her having written novels explains her fame.’
2. [El haber ella hecho estudios en Cuba] le ayudó a mejorar su español.
the have-INF she make-PTCP studies in Cuba to.her helped to better her Spanish
‘Her having done studies in Cuba helped her to better her Spanish.’
The Sentential NI is characterized by several verbal properties, including (I) internal adverbial modification, (II) a subject bearing nominative case (increasingly nominal NIs have subjects marked with de), (III) allowing only the masculine singular determiner el to head the phrase (increasingly nominal NIs allow other determiners), and (IV) the ability to take a direct object (certain nominal NIs cannot). In addition to accounting for these phenomena, my analysis accounts for the nominal property of the entire construction, evidenced by its necessarily appearing in a case-marked position.
Crucially, I also consider an often overlooked variation that occurs in Caribbean Spanish, in which a pronominal subject can occur in an even higher position preceding the infinitive (3).
3. [El ella ganar poco dinero] le entristece. (Caribbean Spanish)
the she earn-INF little money to.her saddens
‘Her making little money makes her sad.’
The analysis accounts for the three discrete subject positions illustrated in (1-3). I propose that the difference between (1a) and (1b) is an aspectual difference denoted by haber, which Alexiadou et al. (2011) claim bears perfective aspect.
I also argue that, in the Sentential NI, D and T do not project all their possible features, and are in fact defective, i.e. devoid of (and hence failing to project) their agreement and case features respectively. The defective nature of D follows from its failure to value genitive case, as well as the Sentential NI’s ability to be introduced only by the masculine singular determiner el, indicating D’s lack of agreement features. This leaves the Case of the subject yet to be accounted for. This can be done by appealing to default case. It has been noted that default case applies under restricted conditions when case cannot be assigned or valued by any other means (see Schütze 2001). The usual case-valuing heads (T and D) have been shown to be defective. Thus, the only other means for the subjects to get case without the derivation crashing is by default. Schütze shows that the Spanish default case is nominative, which comports with the data.